Allison C. Williams, Esq. becomes a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers


Allison C. Williams, Esq., Founder of newjerseyDYFSdefense.com, has just been bestowed the esteemed honor of Fellowship in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML). Allison has devoted her career to the practice of family law. However, what makes her unique is that she focuses her practice on the litigation of Child Welfare Law matters – custody and parental access issues against the State of New Jersey. The Academy is an elite organization, with only about 1600 members worldwide. To learn more about the Academy, visit the organization’s website page at: http://www.aaml.org/.

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers was founded in 1962, by highly regarded domestic relations attorneys “To provide leadership that promotes the highest degree of professionalism and excellence in the practice of family law.” There are currently more than 1600 Fellows in 50 states.

The Academy Fellows are highly skilled negotiators and litigators who represent individuals in all facets of family law. These areas include divorce, annulment, prenuptial agreements, postnuptial agreements, marital settlement agreements, child custody and visitation, business valuations, property valuations and division, alimony, child support and other family law issues.

To be represented by a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers is to be represented by a leading practitioner in the field of family law. The 1600 AAML Fellows across the United States are generally recognized by judges and attorneys as preeminent family law practitioners with a high level of knowledge, skill and integrity. Academy Fellows enjoy a reputation for professionalism, competence and integrity.

Allison certainly meets these criteria. Congratulations, Allison, on your accomplishment!

Substance Abuse Evaluations by DCPP/DYFS


When the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), f/k/a the Division of Youth and Family Services, (DYFS) receives an allegation of abuse or neglect stemming from the use or abuse of alcohol or drugs (legal or illegal), often the accused parent is asked to submit to a substance abuse evaluation. This process entails meeting with a Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LCADC) and taking a series of quantitative tests (yes/no; true/false; scale from 1 to 10; etc.) designed to evaluate potentially riskful behaviors involved in substance use.

Parents are often loathe to submit to any form of evaluation by the Division for fear that the agency’s bias in referring the parent for evaluation will taint the evaluator and result in an unfair assessment. This fear has much greater validity when the evaluation being proposed is a psychological evaluation, rather than a substance abuse evaluation.

The reason is that addiction is succinctly defined as compulsive behavior that continues in the face of adverse consequences. The answers to the substance abuse evaluation determine the risk; whereas, in psychological evaluations, there is a higher degree of subjectivity involved in interpreting the results of the quantitative tests.

If asked to submit to a Substance Abuse Evaluation, defense counsel may limit a parent’s exposure by implementing these practice pointers:

1. Ask that the evaluation not be used in the Fact Finding hearing.

Alcohol or drug addition is not, per se, child abuse. Div. of Youth and Fam. Svcs. v. V.T., 423 N.J.Super. 320 (App.Div.2011). Thus, the existence of an addiction is arguably not probative of whether or not such condition harmed a child on a specific occasion.

2. If the parent submits to evaluation and subsequently engages in treatment, that treatment should not be used in the Fact Finding hearing as evidence that an addiction existed.

Evidence in Fact Finding hearings must be “competent, material and relevant”. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.46(c). That means, the Rules of Evidence apply. N.J.R.E. 407 prohibits the use of corrective action to prove the condition corrected.

“[E]vidence of remedial measures is excluded not because it lacks relevancy, but because admission of said testimony might discourage corrective action and induce perpetuation of the damage and condition that gave rise to the lawsuit.” Hansson v. Catalytic Constr. Co., 43 N.J.Super. at 29. That principle applies equally in child welfare cases, as it does in negligence cases.

3. Stipulating to the existence of an addiction obviates the need for cumulative evidence, such as the substance abuse evaluation, to prove that fact. See, N.J.R.E. 101(a)(4).

4. Even if a Substance Abuse Evaluation and/or treatment compliance comes into evidence, the focus for the Court must be directed to the risks inherent in the situation and whether a child has suffered harm or is likely to suffer future harm.

Where unintentional conduct (i.e., neglect) is alleged, the Division maintains the burden of proof to demonstrate the probability of present or future harm. New Jersey Div. of Youth & Fam. Svcs. v. S.S., 372 N.J.Super. 13 (App.Div.2004). Neglect cannot be founded on assumptions and suppositions.

These pointers are not designed to provide legal advice. For more information, please contact Allison C. Williams, Esq. and schedule a Consultation.

DYFS/DCPP’s marriage to Supervised Visitation


Ever notice how every case filed by the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), n/k/a the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) kicks off with a Complaint and a request for supervised visitation? Does anyone ever question the need for supervision at the initial filing? Of course not, you may be thinking. After all, why would DYFS (DCPP) be involved with the family if there was no need to monitor the actions of the alleged child abusers, right?

Sadly, the allegations made in these cases often come partnered with the assumption that parental supervision is required. But is that always true? What about the case where a father is accused to acts of domestic violence against a mother in the presence of a child but never any infliction of harm against a child? Presumably if the “harm” to that child is witnessing domestic violence, how likely is that harm to reoccur if the parents are not together when in the presence of the child?

And what about cases in which a parent has a substance abuse problem, but the parent’s relatives all confirm that she has never used or abused substances in the presence of the children? Can that parent really not be trusted to have unsupervised dinner visits with the children, especially if she must blow into a breathing device installed on her vehicle to confirm she is “dry” before operating it?

How about the case where a step-parent is accused of being unduly harsh toward a step-child but no such allegation exists as to his natural children? Can he really not be trusted to be alone with his children against whom there is no allegation?

Unfortunately, the DYFS/DCPP “script” is to request supervision; however, the Division’s Field Operations Manual clearly provides that visitation is to be LEAST RESTRICTIVE option available to ensure child safety, and where supervision is requested, the rationale for the request must be set forth with specificity. DYFS rarely goes “off script”, and as a result, Superior Court judges rarely go “off script”.

But placing the impediment of plastic, short-term parental restriction upon a parent who is already being overwhelmed by the panoply of testimony, evaluations, monitoring and worse, usually does more harm than good in the “altruistic” world of social work. It creates barriers to collaboration between the State and the parent to remedy the harm alleged to impair parenting. And, isn’t that why the action is being filed in the first place?

As defense counsel, it is our job to argue against supervision. Never concede that supervised visitation is warranted on the facts presented. Be creative in fashioning the “least restrictive” alternative. Stop assuming that the Division will prevail in its quest for supervision, and perhaps, one day, it will not.

Neglect Findings by DYFS/DCPP must be made on Science – not Assumption


On Monday, September 10, 2012, the New Jersey Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in a case of significance to all involved in the child welfare system. In DYFS (n/k/a/ DCPP) v. A.L., the trial Court, and subsequently, the Appellate Division, made a finding of neglect against a mother who ingested cocaine during her pregnancy. The finding has wide-ranging implications.

Certainly, no one disputes that ingestion of cocaine may have serious consequences for an unborn fetus – but no less serious than ingestion of cigarette smoke, failure to wear seatbelts, and other less than laudable conduct during pregnancy. The difference with cocaine, however, is that its very mention suggests a moral culpability, which does not attend to other conduct of mothers-to-be.

What may surprise many who do not dwell in the land of child protection is that there is little science to support the conclusion that in utero ingestion of cocaine, per se, is harmful to a fetus. Opponents of the trial court’s conclusion argue that attaching the severe consequence of a substantiation and loss of a child to the unfortunate conduct attendant to addiction will, in all likelihood, deter pregnant addicts from seeking treatment.

And, by thwarting treatment, the child protection community is, once again, creating a “cure” that is worse than the “ailment”. Better alternatives to treatment of addiction must be pursued by our society. It will be interesting to see how our Supreme Court views this critical issue.

To watch the Supreme Court argument, check out the live webcast at 10:00 a.m.:

http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/webcast/index.htm

Congratulations to NewJerseyDYFSDefense.com!


August 2012 was an exceptional month! Our BLOG, NewJerseyDYFSDefense.com, experienced record traffic to the site. We experienced a record number of comments on the posts provided. Because of the sensitive nature of the comments, we often could not share them with the public. However, people are reaching out and seeking the information we have to share.

We will continue to share the perspective of parent defense attorneys on this site. And, with your continued patronage, we hope to continue to provide vitally important information to the public and to the defense bar to help combat the often overbroad, overreaching evisceration of families in the state of New Jersey.

We thank you for your continued support and welcome your feedback.