Mother ruled ‘too poor’ to have visitation rights over daughter

On behalf of Stange Law Firm, PC posted in Child Custody on Wednesday, January 13, 2016.

A heartbreaking child custody case out of New Jersey may make our Illinois and Missouri readers consider whether a parent can be made to give up his or her rights due to poverty, and whether parents facing the loss of custody have a constitutional right to an attorney.

The New Jersey Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that pits a 2-year-old girl’s mother against the girl’s foster parents, who want to adopt her and have the biological mother stripped of her parental rights. An attorney for the biological mother said the basis for taking away her client’s rights over her daughter was entirely her being poor.

According to a news report, the mother struggled to care for her daughter, who has special needs. They were homeless and had to live in shelters and in the homes of relatives. Eventually, the mother placed her daughter with a private adoption agency, but only for short-term adoption care.

The agency, the Children’s Home Society, placed the girl with a foster family, and her mother came to visit her, though irregularly. After a year, the agency convinced the foster family to sue the mother to terminate her parental rights so the couple could adopt the girl. In support, the agency filed court papers claiming the mother was unfit and had abandoned her daughter.

The suit was successful, though the judge acknowledged that the mother, who did not have an attorney, was not abusive, negligent, an addict or mentally unfit to be a mother. “She was just poor,” her current attorney said. “That was it.”

The decision was reversed on appeal, and the mother was granted visitation rights. Now the Supreme Court will determine the daughter’s future relationship with her mother, and her possible future with her foster parents as well.

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