The state of New Jersey is reviewing a bill, S2886/A4620, that would update New Jersey law to address caregivers’ pressing need to easily and quickly make alternative arrangements for the care of their children.
Sponsored by Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, Chair, Assembly Judiciary Committee, and Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, Senate President Pro Tempore, and spearheaded by the Rutgers Law School Child Advocacy Clinic and Lowenstein Sandler’s Center for the Public Interest, the bill creates a power of attorney that will allow parents, and other qualified caregivers, to designate alternative caregivers if they find themselves in emergencies or fear that they may become unavailable to make important decisions about their child’s life. Critically, it permits them to do so without going to court, which is something that many people fear‒especially those from immigrant families.
The bill would cover parents in a wide range of circumstances, including those with COVID-19 or another serious illness, those facing immigration enforcement, those called into active military service, and those facing incarceration.
The bill is pending in the Assembly Judiciary Committee and the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. To expedite the bill’s review and passage, the clinic and the firm submitted a letter to the chairs of these committees outlining the urgent need for this bill’s approval.
“Given the number of parents who are becoming ill or dying due to COVID-19, and the number of immigrant parents who face detention or deportation under current immigration enforcement policies, thousands of New Jerseyans need this bill now,” states Randi Mandelbaum, Distinguished Clinical Professor of Law, Annamay Sheppard Scholar, and Director of the Child Advocacy Clinic at Rutgers Law School.
Current New Jersey law enables parents, and at times legal guardians or custodians, to make emergent arrangements without going to court, but the law limits the delegation to six months and does not permit the delegation to go into effect upon a triggering event, such as when a caregiver becomes ill or incapacitated, is detained or deported, becomes incarcerated, or deploys for military service.
Moreover, the state’s Standby Guardianship Statute currently authorizes a court to appoint a standby guardian only when parents are seriously ill or near death. It does not permit the appointment of a standby guardian in the wide range of other circumstances that may disrupt caregiving, including immigration enforcement, incarceration, or military service.
The proposed bill addresses these and other shortcomings as it:
- Permits a parent, legal guardian, or custodian on his/her own without going to court to delegate caregiving responsibilities to another adult, hopefully one well known to the child or ward, for up to one year, with the ability to renew.
- Expands the grounds on which a parent, guardian, or custodian can make a delegation or seek standby guardianship, permitting such alternative arrangements whenever caregivers have become or may become unable to provide care to a child or ward themselves. The bill explicitly includes illness, incapacity, immigration enforcement, incarceration, and military deployment among the reasons that may trigger alternative caregiving arrangements.
- Allows a caregiver to make a delegation effective immediately, but also permits the caregiver to identify a triggering event, such as when he/she is seriously ill or near death, has been detained or deported, becomes incarcerated, or is deployed for military service.
- Maintains the requirement of the other parent’s consent for a delegation, but waives this requirement when the other parent is unknown, unavailable despite diligent efforts to locate him or her, or has not been involved with the upbringing of a child on a long-term basis.
- Clarifies that both New Jersey’s Delegation Statute and Standby Guardianship Statute are available to caregivers who are parents, but also to those who are legal guardians or custodians.
- Provides a sample form that caregivers may use to delegate caregiving responsibilities for their children or wards.
“We cannot emphasize enough how necessary this bill is,” says Catherine Weiss, partner and Chair, Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest. “Professor Mandelbaum and I have worked with numerous families, especially immigrant families, who fear that they will be detained and missing when their children return from school.” Mandelbaum adds, “I have also worked extensively with children in the foster care system, and I know firsthand that many could be spared emergency placements in group settings and/or in the households of strangers if their parents had had the ability to identify safe and familiar alternative caregivers for them.”
Weiss concludes, “Low-income communities have been some of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we see the need for sick parents to have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that their children will be cared for no matter what. Our goal is to press the state to review and enact this critical piece of legislation.”
Media are encouraged to contact any of the following for further information about this bill and the issues it addresses.
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