Parental Rights and Adoption in New Jersey: What to Know as a Birth Mother
If you’re facing an unexpected pregnancy in New Jersey and considering adoption, you may be curious about your rights as a birth mother in NJ. As the biological mother of a baby, you have certain rights whether you choose adoption or not. We’ll explain your rights as a birth mother and how you can navigate the adoption process.
Birth mother rights in New Jersey
New Jersey has several laws in place to protect birth parents and make sure the parents are making the right choice for themselves. As a birth mother, you can feel comfortable knowing that the state has laws to protect you.
Your rights as a birth mother
Unmarried mothers in New Jersey automatically get legal custody when they give birth. That means that you have the legal right to make the decision about adoption, but you do need the birth father to agree too. If you choose not to put your baby up for adoption, then you will have custody of the child and can raise them.
In New Jersey, birth mothers can refuse to name the father on the birth certificate and make the adoption decision on their own. But, if you work with an adoption agency or other adoption professional, they are required to get in touch with potential fathers if you know who they are. Just like birth mothers, birth fathers have certain rights during the adoption process and if a birth father claims paternity, he will need to agree to the adoption.
The main step when giving your baby up for adoption is terminating parental rights. If the birth father is known and has claimed paternity, he will need to terminate his parental rights too. This doesn’t happen until at least 72 hours after the birth, giving you time to make sure you’re making the right choice for you.
After you waive your parental rights, your baby will be placed with adoptive parents who have full legal custody. At this point, an adoption can’t be undone. That’s why birth mothers have at least 72 hours after the birth to finalize the decision. You can change your mind at any point before this, and you don’t have to commit to adoption at any point until you terminate your parental rights. You can even decide to give your baby up for adoption after birth if you realize it’s the right decision for you once the baby is here.
Financial support for birth mothers
Another way that New Jersey protects birth mothers is through legalizing financial support. Unlike some other states, birth mothers can get financial assistance from adoptive parents, if they’re willing to offer their help. That means the adoptive parents you choose for your child could help you cover pregnancy-related expenses like:
- Birth costs
- Adoption services and placement (like adoption agency fees or legal services)
- Medical care during pregnancy and up to 4 weeks after
Financial assistance from adoptive families can only cover expenses during the pregnancy and up to four weeks after birth. If you need assistance beyond that, or don’t want to have the adoptive parents help with costs, an adoption agency can help you find more resources.
Adoption agencies are also required to help you get medical insurance if you don’t already have it. Most pregnant women will qualify for Medicaid, or other government assistance in New Jersey. Medicaid eligibility is determined by monthly income, and an adoption agency will help you figure out if you qualify and then apply. Adoption agencies are also great resources for finding in-network doctors so you don’t spend more money than you have to on your medical care.
New Jersey birth mother rights after adoption
Part of the adoption process is deciding if you want an open or closed adoption. Open adoptions let you stay in touch with the adoptive family and your child. Closed adoptions mean there is no contact between you and the child or the adoptive family after the adoption is finalized. New Jersey offers different protections, depending on which option you choose.
Open adoption in New Jersey
If you know you want to be involved in your child’s life after the adoption is complete, an open adoption might be right for you. You can work with the adoptive family to decide how much or how little contact you’ll have. It’s important to know that in New Jersey, there are no formal post-adoption contact agreements. You can make a document with the adopting family that goes into detail about how much contact you’ll have after the adoption, but it will not be legally enforceable in New Jersey.
Closed adoption in New Jersey
Another option is a closed adoption, where you don’t have any contact with the child or the adoptive parent. Without contact from the adoptive parents, you can focus on your future and have a clean start after the adoption is finalized. It’s also a great choice if you want privacy. But, there’s no guarantee that you’ll stay anonymous forever.
Recently, New Jersey has been making it easier for adopted children to find their birth parents. Since 2017, adopted children can view their birth certificate once they turn 18, even if the adoption was sealed. A sealed adoption is where a court protects the adoption files so nobody can access them. Sealed adoptions in New Jersey still protect birth parents’ privacy, and the update to the law only allows adopted children, their adoptive parent or legal guardian, and their family members (like spouses or children) to see the birth certificate. As the child’s mother, your privacy will still be protected from everyone except those with a connection to the adoption.
As part of the movement to make it easier for adopted children to contact their birth parents, an online portal for birth parents has been created. Birth parents’ information is listed on the portal, but only for adopted children and their relatives as mentioned above. Through the portal you can share whether you’re interested in being contacted by the child directly, contacted by a third-party working for the child, or not contacted at all.
You can change the status at any time if you change your mind. The child would still be able to find you once they become an adult, but your privacy can still be protected if you don’t want to hear from them.
Navigating all of these adoption laws may seem overwhelming — we get it! Just remember, they’re in place to protect you and your baby during the adoption process. If you’re confused about adoption laws in New Jersey or just wondering if adoption is right for you, we can help.
As an adoption agency and a legal practice, A Baby Step Adoption can help you understand your rights during the adoption process. We’ll help you make an adoption plan and explain your legal responsibilities in the adoption process. We’re here to support in any way we can, and you can always change your mind if you decide adoption isn’t right for you. Get in touch with our caring caseworkers today.