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Office of Parental Representation

The Office of Parental Representation

The Office of Parental Representation (OPR), a unit of the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender, provides legal representation to defend parents in cases of alleged neglect or abuse of a child filed by the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) in Family Court.  OPR attorneys also represent parents in Family Court cases where DYFS files a complaint seeking to terminate a parent's right to custody of or contact with a child (called a "guardianship" or “TPR” case).

The Types of Cases Handled by OPR

Cases of alleged neglect or abuse often start with DYFS removing children from a parent’s care.   DYFS must then go to court to justify the removal and to obtain authority to place the children on an emergency or temporary basis with foster or “resource” parents. 

From the beginning of the case, OPR attorneys act as advocates for parents to promote family reunification as the goal of the case and the earliest possible return of children to their parents, whenever possible.  Alternatively, OPR attorneys work with parents to secure placement of a child with a relative agreeable to the parent. 

Throughout the case, OPR attorneys work both to defend parents against the DYFS civil charges and as advocates to help parents obtain visitation with their children, as well as counseling and other services from state and non-governmental agencies.

These services can help provide parents with knowledge and skills, continued contact with their children, a record of participation in programs, and greater familiarity with available resources to help demonstrate to the Family Court that the parents and their children should be reunited.

If a client is faced with any related or parallel criminal proceedings arising from the allegations of neglect or abuse, OPR attorneys will attempt to work as closely as possible with criminal defense counsel who represents the client.

Guardianship (or TPR) cases are commenced by DYFS after a court makes a finding of neglect or abuse and further concludes that a parent cannot remedy a problem contributing to the placement of a child outside the home within the time frames mandated by state and federal law. 

OPR attorneys defend parents against these state efforts to terminate parental rights, a proceeding that one New Jersey court recently equated with the death penalty for a family. 

The timetables which DYFS and the courts use to initiate TPR cases under state law generally follow the requirements of the 1997 federal Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA).  ASFA sped up the process by which parental rights may be terminated in the name of achieving a permanent home for children by allowing foster parents to adopt children more quickly if their birth parents are unable to correct the problems that resulted in their children being placed in foster care. 

Experience since the enactment of ASFA has shown that the mandated time periods are often unrealistic and provide insufficient time for parents to obtain services needed to achieve reunification with their children.  As a result, in defending TPR cases, OPR attorneys often will seek to hold DYFS accountable for any failure to provide parents with required services and necessary programs to enable parents to have a genuine and fair opportunity for reunification with their children.

OPR Resources and Offices

OPR provides legal representation through both staff attorneys and through contracted "pool" attorneys.  Legal counsel is supported by administrative staff and Investigators who assist attorneys and clients in identifying services and programs to promote the goals of family reunification, as well as provide traditional investigative services.  

OPR also provides timely and relevant mandatory training for "pool" attorneys who provide parental representation. 

OPR's administrative and state-wide management office is located in the Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton.  OPR Administration and Management can be reached as follows:

Office of Parental Representation
25 Market Street - P.O. Box 850
Trenton, New Jersey 08625
Tel:  609-341-3832
Fax: 609-341-3819

Beginning in 2005, the OPD opened eight regional offices throughout New Jersey to house approximately 50 staff attorneys.  OPR’s regional offices now directly assign the attorneys for a client. The offices, the counties covered by each office, and how they can be contacted, follow: 

The Capital Office
(for Mercer, Burlington and Hunterdon counties):
210 South Broad St., 4th Floor
Trenton, NJ 08625
609-599-6899 (fax)

The Northern Office
(for Union, Essex, Passaic counties):
31 Clinton Street, 12th floor
Newark, NJ 07102

The Shore Office
(for Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May counties):
5914 Main Street – Suite 104
Mays Landing, New Jersey 08330
Tel:  609-909-2780
Fax: 609-909-2793

The Southern Office
(for Salem, Cumberland, Gloucester and Camden counties):
2 Riverside Drive - 4th Floor
Camden, New Jersey 08103
Tel:  856-614-2100
Fax: 856-614-2202

The Central Office
(for Middlesex and Monmouth counties):
928 Livingston Ave.
North Brunswick, New Jersey 08902
Tel:  732-545-1530
Fax: 732-545-2216

The Northwest Office
(for Morris, Somerset counties):
2170 Headquarters Plaza
Morristown, New Jersey 07960
Tel:  973-656-4488
Fax: 973-656-4496

Sussex, Warren
314 Front St.
Belvidere, New Jersey 07823
Tel:  908-475-1789
Fax: 908-475-5647

Northeast Office - Bergen, Hudson
438 Summit Ave 5th Floor
Jersey City, New Jersey 07306
Tel: 201-217-5953
Fax: 201-217-5964

OPR Appellate Programs

In 2006, OPR Appellate took over responsibility from the Public Defender's Appellate Section in Newark to assign attorneys in OPR cases.

In 2007, the decision of the Supreme Court of New Jersey in D.Y.F.S. v. B.R. 192 N.J. 301 (2007) required OPR Appellate as part of a direct appeal to handle all claims of ineffective assistance by trial counsel that may arise in a Title 9 or Title 30 case.

In 2009, OPR competed the process of establishing an Appellate Program (OPR Appellate) to handle all appeals from final orders in Title 9 and Title 30 cases in which a client had been represented by an OPR staff or pool trial attorney.

OPR's appellate program is supervised by a Deputy Public Defender and administered by staff lawyers who now manage all appeals for OPR clients, both in the Appellate Division and in the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

OPR Appellate staff both supervise and support the pool attorneys who directly represent clients as Designated Counsel for the Public Defender.

OPR Appellate also represents clients not previously represented by the Public Defender after approval by the Appellate Division of Superior Court of a 5A application to confirm a client's eligibility for Public Defender representation.

OPR Appellate now files all appeals, orders necessary transcripts, receives and reviews files transmitted for appeal, prepares or identifies appropriate motions, supervises the preparation of briefs, assists in the preparation of the record on appeal, and where appropriate, requests oral argument and files any necessary Petitions for Certification to request review by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

In addition, OPR staff attorneys may directly handle appeals in selected DYFS cases. OPR Appellate does not handle interlocutory appeals, which remain a trial attorney responsibility.

OPR Appellate Office
31 Clinton Street - 4th Floor
Newark, New Jersey 07102
Tel: 973-877-1265
Fax: 973-273-0132