A Family Court judge was scolded by his peers for determining that an Essex County mother abused and neglected her children because she smoked marijuana from time to time.

The mother on Thursday was cleared of wrongdoing nearly three years after the birth of her son, who was born with some marijuana in his system as a result of his mother occasionally smoking during pregnancy to help with appetite and alleviate anxiety.

After the birth, the hospital notified the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency Division, which resulted in the state agency supervising the parenting of her two children and in a requirement that she attend drug counseling.

But a two-judge appellate panel on Thursday said the Family Court judge, who they did not name, took matters too far by extrapolating that the mother must have been "stoned all the time" just because she admitted to continuing to smoke after the pregnancy.

The appellate decision says the judge “inappropriately filled in the gapes ... with speculation.”

The state had no evidence that the children had been harmed. A state case worker and a parental aide who had visited the family three times a week for a year never found evidence that the children were neglected or that the mother was under the drug's effects while parenting.

The Family Court judge ruled in 2014 that the mother was abusive because she delayed attending the drug program. The mother said she had to find child care — and she was participating in the program by the time she appeared before the judge.

As the appellate decision noted, state courts have held that "failure to successfully defeat drug addiction does not automatically equate to child abuse or neglect.”

Nevertheless, the mother successfully completed the program in 2015, a year before the Family Court judge upheld the abuse and neglect findings anyway, saying that “long-term use of marijuana does create a risk, a substantial risk.”

The appellate judges reversed those findings on Thursday and ordered the mother's name to be removed from the state's Central Registry of abusive parents.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.


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