TPR - Your Rights and Responsibilities
I know the last post had a lot if information to absorb. At this point in the process, you will have a lot on your mind and most likely will have a lot of questions for your lawyer. You will want to know what you can do at this point to get your child back, and what DCPP has to do. in order to prove their case against you.
As I pointed out, the Division has to prove its case against you by clear and convincing evidence. It is a high bar for the Division to clear in proving their case. One thing the Division must prove is that they provided you with every possible service in order to prevent Termination of Parental Rights and to facilitate reunification with you instead. In order to prove "reasonable efforts" the Division must show that they have:
- Worked with you to develop a reunification plan (even after the Judge has approved TPR as the permanency plan);
- Referring you to service providers that you and the Division have agreed upon, or that the court has ordered, including;
- family therapy;
- drug and alcohol treatment;
- parenting classes;
- anger management.
- Arranging for you to have continued parenting time with your child.
I understand that it is very difficult to juggle all these multiple responsibilities. You will be overwhelmed with appointments for, substance abuse treatment, parenting classes, anger management sessions, and therapy sessions. You will be required to attend psychological and bonding evaluations scheduled by the Division, the Law Guardian, and your lawyer, with separate experts. Of course, you also have to attend every pre-trial case management conference in court.. Many parents run into problems because these obligations interfere with their work or school schedule. They worry that they have to choose between school or work and achieving the goal of reunification.
You need to discuss your school and work schedule with your case worker, so that he or she can try to schedule services around that schedule. The Judge will want to see that you are either maintaining employment or going to school. Tell your lawyer about any problems with your schedule, so he or she can talk to the DAG. Not all services can be arranged to accommodate your schedule. You have to rearrange your work and school schedule in order to do what you need to do. The court can provide letters to your school or employers if necessary. I know most parents do not want to discuss DCPP litigation with employers or teachers, but sometimes you will have no choice but to miss some days of work or school. It is more important now than ever to keep a calendar of your obligations.
You have the right to enjoy parenting time with your child during this process. You want to maintain and solidify your relationship with your child. The court wants you to have this regular contact, and if you are serious about reunification, so do you.
The amount and type of parenting time you have depends on the facts of your case. At minimum, the court will usually allow one hour a week of parenting time, supervised by the Division. Of course that is not enough. Your lawyer will always be seeking to expand your time. He or she can request that a family member supervise your visits, whether or not your child is with a relative or in foster care. If you are complying with all the required services, the Court will be more likely to grant your attorney's request for more time. Your lawyer can argue that you have mad enough progress for supervision to be lifted. He or she can present a defense evaluation that recommends lifting the supervision. Your lawyer can request that visits take place in the community or your home, instead of the DCPP office.
DCPP will be keeping records of how often you visit and the quality of those visits. Bring your child a healthy snack and age appropriate books to the visits. Remember, the older your child, the more questions he or she will have about the outcome of the case. If you are engaging in therapy, your therapist can help you develop age-appropriate answers for your child. Never promise your child that he or she will be coming home to live with you.
We live in New Jersey! Anyone who has lived here for any length of time knows that it's not easy to get anywhere without a car. Although we have a public transportation system in New Jersey, it's not easy to get where you are going. New Jersey is a very crowded state but the further you get from the Turnpike in either direction, the more rural our state gets. Some rural parts of our state are very beautiful, but have little or no public transportation to offer.
If you are involved in the DCPP system and don't have easy access to reliable transportation, ask your DCPP case worker to assist. DCPP can sometimes transport you to court, to visits, and to some service providers. In some situations DCPP will provide a driver, in others they can provide bus or train passes. If DCPP refuses to accommodate your transportation request, your lawyer can ask the Judge to order the Division to assist but it is up to the judge to decide to grant the request. If you are in a substance abuse treatment facility, you can ask if the facility can provide transportation as well.
If you are represented by the a lawyer from the Office of Parental Representation, you can ask your lawyer if he or she can request that OPR assist in transportation. OPR has limited resources though, and cannot accommodate every transportation requests it receives.
While DCPP can assist in transportation most of the time, arranging transportation is ultimately your responsibility. If you have arranged for DCPP to transport you somewhere, don't refuse the ride. If you must reschedule a visit with your child for any reason, contact DCPP a day in advance so that they don't send a transporter for your child or you unnecessarily. If you don't cooperate with DCPP's transporters, DCPP will not want to assist you in the future. Always thank the transporter for the ride. Never verbally abuse a DCPP transporter. Don't do anything that will make DCPP decide it does not want to help you with transportation.
If you decide to arrange transportation on your own, for anything at all, please be sure you have a Plan B and Plan C to get to where you are going! It's great if you can drive yourself to where you are going. But if your car is on its last legs, it may not get you there. It's great if you have a friend or relative to drive you somewhere, but it's not good if that person is not reliable. Your friends and relatives do have their own lives after all. And don't expect your lawyer to drive you to or from court - he or she has other things to do. In short, if transportation is a problem, it is best to ask DCPP for transportation assistance first before you figure out your other options.
The Trial Date Gets Closer
As the trial date gets closer, you will be thinking about whether you can meet your obligations to get your child back. Your lawyer will be waiting for the results of you evaluations and will begin to assess the likelihood of success at trial. In my next post, I will discuss the options that you need to consider as the trial date approaches.