Extent of Foster Child’s Bonding With Foster Family May be Relevant to Relatives’ Application for Custody

New Jersey Division of Child Protection & Permanency v. C.S., 432 N.J. Super. 224 (App. Div. 2013).  As Judge Fisher noted in today’s opinion, in the context of children who may go to or remain in foster care, “there is a statutory preference for the termporary placement of children with suitable relatives pending the ultimate determination of the child’s future.”  The issue in this case was whether evidence that a child who had been with her foster family for just over one year might have bonded with that foster family could be considered in opposition to the child’s grandparents’ application for custody.  The Family Part concluded that such evidence could not be considered.  The Appellate Division reversed.

The issue was one of law, so the de novo standard of review applied.  Judge Fisher emphasized that the panel was not saying that bonding evidence had to be considered in every case.  But here, the length of time that the child was with her foster family was not “such a brief or inconsequential period of time as to guarantee that her departure from that home will not cause harm.”  And, in this case as in all others, the “polestar” was the best interests of the child.  Accordingly, in these circumstances, the bonding evidence was appropriate for consideration, and the decision below was reversed.