The firm of Paragano & Williams, LLC, has achieved a resounding victory for our client in the Appellate Division on an emergent basis!
We represent a Father wrongfully accused by his pre-teen daughter of excessive corporal punishment. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), f/k/a the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) investigated and deemed the child’s statements unfounded. The Mother took it upon herself to remove the children from the Father in New Jersey, behind his back, and took them to her home in Maryland. When law enforcement in both states refused to intervene, the Father retained Ms. Williams to secure their return.
Unfortunately, as is often the case, the trial judge had an immediate, negative reaction to the Father solely because of the DYFS investigation. Never mind that DYFS ultimately concluded that no abuse or neglect had occurred. Never mind that DYFS made that determination before the Father filed an application in Court. The trial Court heard “DYFS” and immediately formed a perception that irreparably tainted the proceedings. Believing the child’s words within the DYFS report, the trial Court became married to allegations that even the Division found not credible.
Without a trial, the court granted the mother custody and authorized her to start the children’s lives anew in another State. The Appellate Division has reversed and remanded – on an emergent basis – to a different trial Court judge for an evidentiary hearing as required by law. Proof positive that zealous advocacy can achieve justice, the pursuit of which is the passion of Paragano & Williams, LLC!
This, my friends, is a cautionary tale. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency does not always substantiate child abuse or neglect. Many times, the Division has access to witness statements, school records, medical reports and other evidence that normally would never be presented in Court, absent subpoena power, depositions and trial dates at substantial cost to the families. Non-dissolution (FD) proceedings are replete with instances of well-intentioned jurists using the Division as a discovery agent and to determine issues of custody and parenting time. That is not the Division’s role.
Unfortunately, parents rarely have the resources to battle the Division and to refute its collection of information. In this instance, the Division took all of that voluminous information and made the determination that abuse and neglect was simply not present. While I certainly do not suggest that the Division cannot err, the trial judge cannot dispense with a trial, rely upon the information gathered by DYFS and written into a report — without testimony — no matter the Division’s conclusion or the trial court’s agreement or disagreement with that conclusion.
Luckily, for our client, a new trial Court judge will take testimony in this matter, in the pursuit of the best interests of the children.