Mom Takes Kids to Exorcism, Loses Custody Rights

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on November 30, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's not easy to strip parents of their rights. But when dad is in prison and mom takes the tykes to an exorcism, states may step in. A New Jersey appellate court did just that, confirming a lower court's decision to strip parental rights and allow adoption of two children whose mom and dad are alive, if not well.

The mother of the children, a boy and girl who are now 6 and 7, has a history of mental illness, NBC News reports. She took the children to a priest after hearing voices urging her to give them to the devil. The kids were only 2 and 3 years old at the time, and state authorities removed them from the home. Now, neither mom nor dad is officially a parent.

Prisoners and Parental Rights

Many children with parents in prison end up in the foster care system. If there is another parent or relative to care for the child, states may not get involved. But children of the incarcerated are more likely to end up in state care and prisoner parents can lose their rights.

According the National Conference of State Legislatures, there is a serious risk that the legal parent-child relationship will be permanently severed through legal action by a child welfare agency when a parent is in prison. The 1997 federal Adoption and Safe Families Act, requires states to file a petition to terminate parental rights on behalf of any child who has been abandoned or who has been in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months.

There are three exceptions to requirement:

  • At the option of the state, if the child is being cared for by a relative.
  • If the state has documented a compelling reason for determining that termination of parental rights would not be in the child's best interest.
  • If the state has not provided the child's family with services that the state deems necessary for the safe return of the child to his or her home.

A Severe and Enduring Loss

In this case, the New Jersey courts found that foster care and adoption were the best option. The parents did reportedly receive services and refused them.

A Superior Court judge found the mother had done little to treat her hallucinations and the father refused to treat his substance abuse. The appellate panel agreed that removing the children from their foster mother would be "a severe and enduring loss to the children."

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