Parents often ask me why the non-offending parent is listed as a defendant when the State of New Jersey, vis-à-vis the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), formerly known as the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), files a lawsuit in court. The answer is simple. Because the state is seeking relief against the parents, whether that parent has done anything wrong or not.
Usually, in these cases the division is looking for the court to order the parents to call operate with services for the child who has been allegedly abused or neglected. Both parents have a right to be heard and to oppose any such relief as to their child.
Of course, this raises an important irony. When the court has jurisdiction over the child, which occurs as soon as the division files an action, services are routinely ordered for the child. This may include evaluations, therapy, mentors, school assistance, Financial assistance, etc. If a parent were inclined to oppose such “services”, what would be the end result? With rare exception, the parent’s opposition would be noted, but not honored, and services would be ordered in any event.
We do have the recent case of the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services vs. T.S., Which cautions the trial court against ordering services simply because they are “routinely ordered”; However, those services are related to the parent – not the child.
In reality, the state wants the parent to participate in the litigation – whether they are the cause of it or not – as they will be required to implement any services for the child, Including, for instance, transporting the child to therapy, assisting the child with any tutoring or mentoring that is provided for the child, giving background information to any professionals performing evaluations, etc. And, if nothing else, the non-offending parent will want to know what is being alleged as to his/her child.
Non-offending parents should use their participation in the litigation for its intended purpose of facilitating a resolution of issues impacting the child. For any litigation that follows the child welfare case, the parent will then be armed with information about the welfare of the child that may bare upon issues of custody, parenting time, and related issues.
I have been involved in a case where I represent Dad, who is cliamed to be the abusive(sexual) parent, and we adamantly deny the allegations. Mom was a named defendant, but child was returned to her early on, when dad agreed to move out pending the fact finding hearing.(which now has its 3rd scheduled date). Mom continually draws the ire of the division when she expresses dad’s innocence and that there is nothing to protect the child from…it’s a nightmare….the deck is so stacked….
Don, I am involved in a similar matter in a northern county, representing the non-offending parent who firmly believes her husband’s innocence. I offer the following advice for such circumstances:
1. The non-offending parent should compile a list of reasons why s/he believes his/her spouse. The reasons should focus upon the parent-child relationship with the non-offending spouse — not the spousal relationship. Focusing on the latter will likely draw complaint that the non-offending parent prioritizes the spouse over the child.
2. The psychological community acknowledges that a parent can disbelieve that abuse has occurred, and yet, still be supportive of the child who believes she has been abused. Cite to this research every time the matter is listed in court. Such information from Learned Treatises offers material and relevant evidence to the court for dispositional purposes.
3. Minimize the public appearance of support got the alleged offending parent by the non-offending parent. The image of wife supporting husband contradicts the position that wife supports his accuser (i.e.., the child) – no matter what the psychological community has to say about the two roles being compatible.
4. Obtain private therapy for the non-offending parent. Do NOT allow the Division access to this professional unless and until there is a finding, and only then, after the consequences of such finding have been addressed in court. Keep that safe space for the non-offending parent to express fear, concern, anxiety and yes, even doubt, without fear of jeopardizing the accused parent’s defense, the child’s sense of security or the marital relationship.
These tips are not intended to constitute legal advice. If you would like to discuss your matter further, please contact me at my office.