The New Jersey Supreme Court recently overturned a lower court ruling that terminated a father’s parental rights due a prison sentence that lasted from when his daughter was six months old until after her sixth birthday.

The case, DYFS v. J.G., arose when New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services (now the Division of Child Protection and Permanency), moved to terminate the father’s parental rights in order for her grandmother to be able to adopt her. The child and her half-brother had already been removed from their mother’s home due to the mother’s alcoholism.

The father, J.G., had been arrested and convicted of eluding a police officer. Prior to his conviction, he actively cared for his daughter. He testified that he did everyday activities such as feeding her, changing her diapers, and taking her to regular doctor’s appointments. While in prison, he took classes in anger management, behavior modification, reentry preparation and parenting. At trial, he agreed that the child should continue to live with her grandmother, but he refused to give up all of his rights to communicate and visit with the child.

The Supreme Court held that although there was a legitimate interest in the child being in a permanent placement, the evidence was not clear that terminating the father’s rights would not cause more harm than good.  This is one of four factors that the Division of Child Protection and Permanency must consider in determining whether termination of parental rights is appropriate.

Criminal history is an important factor in custody cases. In fact, new custody law in Pennsylvania requires custody litigants to complete an affidavit listing any crimes of whey they have been convicted. If you or a family member is going through or considering starting a custody case in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, please contact the dedicated family law attorneys at Petrelli Previtera.