TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey can't conclude a mother abused and neglected her baby because the child was born exhibiting symptoms of methadone withdrawal due to the mother's use of the drug, the state Supreme Court ruled in an opinion Monday.
The unanimous ruling reversed an earlier appeals court ruling that allowed the woman to retain custody of the boy but under state supervision. The Supreme Court referred the case back to the appellate division to determine if there were any other factors that could warrant a finding of abuse and neglect.
According to court documents, the woman, identified by the pseudonym "Yvonne," had become addicted to a prescription painkiller after she was injured in a car accident. When she became pregnant, she was advised by hospital personnel to take methadone because to suddenly stop taking the painkiller could jeopardize her pregnancy.
The baby was born in early 2011 with symptoms of methadone withdrawal and spent several weeks in the hospital.
A family court judge ruled in favor of the state and cited other factors including a domestic violence incident and the mother's prior drug history.
Monday's Supreme Court ruling faulted the appellate court for upholding that decision based solely on the baby's withdrawal symptoms.
"Absent exceptional circumstances, a finding of abuse or neglect cannot be sustained based solely on a newborn's enduring methadone withdrawal following a mother's timely participation in a bona fide treatment program prescribed by a licensed health care professional to whom she has made full disclosure," Justice Barry Albin wrote in the 6-0 opinion.