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Egan Jones Bill to Ensure Rights of Parents’ in Adoption Hearings Clears Assembly Committee

(TRENTON) – An Assembly panel on Thursday released legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Patricia Egan Jones to require courts to provide notice of right to legal counsel and appoint counsel to parents during adoption proceedings.

Currently, the law requires the court to inform each parent or person entitled to notice of an adoption action of the purpose of the action, the consequences of not responding to the notice in a timely manner, the parents or person’s right to file a written objection, and the timeframe under which the objections must be filed. Existing law also does not require the court to inform parents or other person is entitled to notice of the adoption action of the right to be represented by or consult with legal counsel or if indigent to be provided with counsel.

This bill (A-4628) would expand the instances in which the court is required to provide notice and appoint the Public Defender to represent a parent to include an action to terminate parental rights or when a parent files a complaint for adoption.

“The responsibility to notify parents of their right to counsel in an adoption hearing should be placed with the courts,” said Egan Jones (D- Camden, Gloucester). “It is only right for parents to be present, to have counsel, and be heard in an adoption proceeding. If enacted, we can help to ensure that parents in these situations understand their right to counsel and be properly represented in court.”

Under the bill, in an adoption proceeding or prior to a child being placed for adoption, certain information must be provided to the parent including the notice of hearing or notice of intention to place a child for adoption and informing each parent of the parents’ right to be represented by and consults with legal counsel, and if indigent, of the parents right to have the court provide the parent with counsel.

The Office of the Public Defender would appoint counsel to represent the parent in accordance with the guidelines established in the bill. The bill would not prohibit a parent from retaining private counsel or limit the powers of the public defender established under current law.

The bill was released by the Assembly Women and Children Committee. It will now go to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.