Determining the Best Interests of the Child - New Jersey

Date: September 2023

Guiding Principles

Citation: Ann. Stat. §§ 9:2-4a; 30:4C-1(a), (b), (f) 

Notwithstanding any other provisions of law to the contrary, in any action concerning children undertaken by a State department, agency, commission, authority, court of law, or State or local legislative body, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

This act is to be administered strictly in accordance with the general principles laid down in this section, which are declared to be the public policy of this State, whereby the safety of children shall be of paramount concern and the best interests of children shall be a primary consideration, as follows:

  • That the preservation and strengthening of family life is a matter of public concern as being in the interests of the general welfare, but the health and safety of the child shall be the State's paramount concern when making a decision on whether or not it is in the child's best interests to preserve the family unit
  • That the prevention and correction of dependency and delinquency among children should be accomplished so far as practicable through welfare services that will seek to continue the living of such children in their own homes
  • That each child placed outside their home by the State has the need for permanency as follows: 
    • Through return to the child's own home, if the child can be returned home without endangering the child's health or safety 
    • Through adoption, if family reunification is not possible 
    • Through an alternative permanent placement, if termination of parental rights is not appropriate

Best Interests Factors

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 30:4C-1.1(a), (c)-(g) 

In accordance with the provisions of § 30:4C-11.1(b)-(d), when determining the reasonable efforts to be made and when making the reasonable efforts, the child's health and safety shall be of paramount concern.

The legislature finds and declares the following:

  • Because the safety of children must always be paramount, allegations of child abuse and neglect must be investigated quickly and thoroughly and protective actions must be taken immediately, if necessary. 
  • Concerns about the safety, permanency, and well-being of children require significant changes in the child welfare system, the ability to implement best practices within the system, the development of effective services to meet the needs of children and families, and the elimination of impediments to the quick and efficient management of abuse and neglect cases. 
  • Children need safe, stable, and positive relationships with caring adults to thrive, and, if their parents are incapable of providing such a caring relationship, the State must look to other families to provide this kind of relationship.
  • To ensure the best outcomes for children and their families, these substitute families must be viewed and treated as 'resource families' and provided with appropriate support, training, and responsibilities, which will include expedited licensure for this purpose, equalized payment rates for care among the various types of resource families, and enhanced access to necessary support services tailored to their respective needs.
  • Youth must be provided with supports and services in their communities that will enable them to grow into healthy and productive adults, and those youth who previously received child welfare services must continue to receive those services beyond age 18, up to age 21, as appropriate.

Other Considerations

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 9:2-7.1

A grandparent or any sibling of a child residing in this State may apply to the court for an order for visits with the child. It shall be the burden of the applicant to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the granting of visits is in the best interests of the child.

In deciding on an application, the court shall consider the following factors:

  • The relationship between the child and the applicant
  • The relationship between the applicant and each of the child's parents or the person with whom the child is residing 
  • The time that has elapsed since the child last had contact with the applicant
  • The effect that such visits will have on the relationship between the child and the child's parents or the person with whom the child is residing
  • If the parents are divorced or separated, the time-sharing arrangement that exists between the parents with regard to the child
  • The good faith of the applicant in filing the application
  • Any history of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or neglect by the applicant
  • Any other factor relevant to the best interests of the child

Regarding any application, it shall be prima facie evidence that visits are in the child's best interests if the applicant has, in the past, been a full-time caregiver for the child.