Located in the northeastern United States, New Jersey (NJ) is home to beautiful beaches and the Wizard of Menlo Park, otherwise known as Thomas Edison. New Jersey is one of the smallest states in the county, ranking number 47, but has one of the highest population densities. This beautiful state has a long history of adoption and there are many adoption agencies within the state.

If you live in the state of New Jersey and are facing an unplanned pregnancy, it is important to know what options are available to you. Even in the best of circumstances, pregnancy can be a very emotional time. Whether you are meeting news of your pregnancy by yourself or with the baby’s father, know that you have three choices available to you: parent the child, terminate the pregnancy, or place the child for adoption. If you are considering adoption, you may be wondering, how does adoption NJ work?

Adoption is the legal termination of a birth parents’ rights and the legal granting of parental rights to the adoptive parents. Though adoption is a permanent termination of rights for the birth parents, adoption is a lifelong journey and a termination of parental rights does not necessarily mean a termination of your presence in your child’s life. Like all aspects of the adoption journey, you have a choice. You have a choice whether to place your child for adoption, and you may change your mind at any step in the journey. If you place your child for adoption, you have a choice as to the level of contact you maintain with that child and their adoptive family. Expectant parents who choose to place their children for adoption do not do so because they do not love their child. They do so because they are not ready to be a parent, or they are not in a financial position to support a child/ More importantly, they do so because they love that child enough to make an incredible, loving choice.

Know that there is no right answer. Know that whatever you choose will be the right decision for you. Know there are other women who have experienced what you are experiencing and know you are not alone. From how to find prospective adoptive parents, to what are the expectant fathers’ rights, to how to make hospital plans, here is everything you need to know about how does adoption NJ work?

The first step in your prospective birth parent journey will be to decide if you want to work with an agency or to if you want to pursue an independent adoption. With independent adoptions, generally, there is a facilitator and an adoption attorney is involved. The state of New Jersey has no specifications with regards to advertising to prospective birth parents so it is possible to connect with prospective adoptive parents without the aid of an agency. That said, it is illegal for a facilitator to receive money from prospective adoptive parents for the purpose of matching them with an expectant birth mother. If you are concerned about working with an adoption facilitator or are contacted by an adoption facilitator, it is recommended that you consult with a state-licensed adoption attorney.

The benefit of working with an agency is that a good agency will walk you through every step of the adoption process and be there with you throughout the journey. Per New Jersey law, expectant parents considering adoption have the right to at least three counseling sessions provided by an adoption counselor or a state-licensed social worker. Additionally, you have the right to receive counseling after you have placed your child. This counseling is provided free to you and can help you navigate the emotional journey of both your pregnancy and your prospective placement.

When you meet with an agency, ask them any and all questions you may have – like how do they find prospective adoptive parents, what kind of support will they offer to you, are there support groups of other expectant parents available to you now, what about after the birth of your child? All agencies will help you develop a list of questions for prospective adoptive parents, help determine a good hospital plan for you, walk you through options for pre and postnatal contact with the adoptive parents, and outline what kind of financial support you can expect.

One question a lot of expectant parents have about how does adoption NJ work is how much does it cost to place a child for adoption. The answer is nothing. In the state of New Jersey, all legal, medical, and counseling expenses associated with the placement of your child will be covered. Other expenses covered may include help with reasonable living expenses (such as food and rent), maternity clothes, and transportation associated with the placement of your child (such as to the adoption attorney, the agency, or to meet with your doctor or counselor). Payments may extend four weeks postnatally, but nothing further. All payments will need to be documented, which is typically handled by the adoption attorney or agency, and presented in a court of law before the adoption can be finalized. Additionally, payments made by the prospective adoptive parents are non-refundable. That means if you ultimately choose to parent your child, you will not have to repay any money.

The first thing to think about when considering prospective adoptive parents is whether you would like an open, semi-open, or closed adoption with your child and the adoptive family. Like all things in this process, there are no right answers. Open adoption refers to an adoption where the birth parents, the adoptive parents, and the adopted child have some form of open contact between all members of the adoption triad. No two open adoptions are the same and it is up to the adoptive parents and birth parents (and later the adoptee) to decide what this contact looks like. Contact may involve letters, phone calls, in-person get-togethers, or virtual gatherings. Semi-open adoption refers to much of the same contact as open adoption, such as letters and phone calls, but typically members of the triad do not get together in person or virtually. Contact may be more sporadic than in open adoption and occur only a few times a year or annually. In a closed adoption, there is no contact between the birth parents and the adoptive parents. The adoptee will likely know that they are adopted, but they may not know who their birth parents are and if they do, they will have no contact with them. At the age of 18, however, the adoptee may find out who their birth parents are and may reach out to them. Likewise, if birth parents have a closed adoption and wish to locate their child they may do so through the adoption registry when the child is 18 years old. It should be noted, too, that in New Jersey no consent agreements are legally enforceable so ongoing consent is left up to the discretion of the adoption triad. 

Deciding which prospective adoptive parent is right for you is a big step. Know that any prospective adoptive parent with a valid home study has been thoroughly vetted. The purpose of a home study is for a prospective adoptive parent to examine their motivations for adoption and to make sure the prospective adoptive parents are financially, emotionally, and physically able to parent a child. Home studies include reference letters from prospective adoptive parents’ family, friends, and employers and every prospective adoptive parent with a valid home study will have completed a background check and child abuse and neglect clearances.

If working with an adoption agency, typically an agency will present a number of prospective adoptive parents for your consideration. You may have online profiles, videos, photographs, and even scrapbooks to review. Consider what is important to you. Where would you like your child to grow up? Should it be in an urban, suburban, or rural setting? Is it important for your child to have siblings or pets? What about the adoptive parents? What kind of education do you hope the adoptive parents have? What kind of jobs or hobbies does the family have? Is religion important to you? What about race or ethnicity? Remember, there are no wrong answers. The right adoptive family will feel right to you.

Another question of how does adoption in NJ work is the role of the expectant father. Whether he is in the picture or not, he will need to be notified of the prospective adoption proceedings. For a man to be presumed to be the expectant father, he must have been married, or attempted to marry the expectant mother, and/or he must have provided support for the expectant mother and child at least 120 days prior to the child’s birth. Proof of paternity is required under law, and a certificate of parentage, stating the man is the natural father of the child, must be executed. An expectant mother may refuse to name the father if she signs an affidavit explaining why. In this case, the agency must attempt to find the expectant father. If the expectant father agrees to the adoption, he will sign consent forms after the baby is born. If he does not consent to the adoption, then he must file a written objection in court after receiving notice that he is the expectant father. If the expectant father does not reply to the notification, then it may be presumed that he consents to the adoption. The father has 20 days to object to the prospective adoption if he lives in the state, and 35 days to object if he resides out of state.

When your delivery day comes, it is important to make sure you are ready for the hospital. Your adoption agency, adoption attorney, or counselor will help you develop a hospital plan that you feel comfortable with implementing. Take some time to think about who you want in the delivery room with you. Who will be there from your support system to support you? How much do you want the adoptive parents involved? How much time do you want with the baby after delivery? Do you want to leave the hospital as an adoption triad or make other plans? Remember there are no right answers and you may change your hospital plan any time you want–whether weeks ahead or even during delivery.

Once the baby is born, you will need to wait at least 72 hours before you can consent to the adoption. You may choose to have the baby with you during this time, or for the adoptive parents to care for the child or some combination of the two. After 72 hours, you may legally consent to the termination of your parental rights. If the birth father is present, he may consent at this time as well. If he does not appear or is not in the picture, then his lack of presence after 72 hours will nullify his rights to parent the child. Before your consent, you will again be advised about the laws regarding the adoption of your child and your ability to change your mind should you wish to do so. If you do not wish to change your mind, then the child will be placed with the adoptive parents, you will sign the consent forms, and your decision will become irrevocable. 

The days and weeks after giving birth can be tough and after placing a child, even more so. After you sign the consent form, you may experience sadness, depression, hope, or even a sense of relief. Take some time for yourself and call upon your support system. Though it can feel otherwise at times, know that you are not alone. Other women can offer their insights and share their experiences with placing a child. Your adoption agency can be a great resource for connecting with fellow birth mothers as well as offer recommendations for continued counseling in your area. Lastly, know that adoption is a lifelong process. Your relationship with the adoptive parents and your child will continue to develop in the years to come. Have any more questions of how does adoption NJ work? Reach out to an agency or crisis pregnancy center to learn more.

Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller, and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. Her amazing transracial transcultural family was created through adoption from China and India. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and “is this really us?!” whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at www.letterstojack.com.