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Monday, July 23, 2007

M.F. v. Department of Human Services, Division of Family Development

07-18-07 A-6771-04T2

After the death of the minors' mother, the Camden County
Board of Social Services reduced Temporary-Assistance-to-Needy-
Families benefits which had been paid to appellant prior to the
mother's death under the Work First New Jersey Act, N.J.S.A.
44:10-44 to -78, on the ground that one of the two minors was
not the biological child of appellant, nor did appellant have a
legal relationship with that child. Appellant contended that he
was the psychological parent of that ten-year-old child because
the child and his mother had lived with appellant for nine years
before the mother's death. Relying on V.C. v. M.J.B., 163 N.J.
200, cert. denied, 531 U.S. 926, 121 S. Ct. 302, 148 L. Ed. 2d
243 (2000), appellant argued that psychological parenthood is a
legal relationship within the policy objectives of the Work
First New Jersey Act and that he was entitled to receive
benefits for his psychological child.

We held that the Work First New Jersey Act and the
regulations promulgated thereunder specifically require that a
legal relationship must exist pursuant to a court order and that
neither a county social services agency nor the Department of
Human Services could recognize a de facto psychological parental
relationship. Such a psychological-parent relationship may be
established through a Kinship Legal Guardianship proceeding,
N.J.S.A. 3B:12A-1 to -7, after which the kinship legal guardian
would be eligible for benefits under the Kinship Care Subsidy
Program, N.J.A.C. 10:90-19.1(a), (c). We determined that the
V.C. decision did not require agency recognition of
psychological parenthood because the statutory and regulatory
scheme of the Work First New Jersey Act expressly required a
court order and one could readily be obtained by psychological
parents under the Kinship Legal Guardianship Act.