Today, I appeared in a matter in which the Court made a finding of excessive corporal punishment against the mother. She is from another country (actually, another continent) and had to learn that her culture’s disciplinary tactics are not acceptable in the U.S. That part was easy.
But, the case now center around an all-too-common circumstance, whereby the Division alleges a risk in reunifying the fmily because the mother does not BELIEVE the Division’s position on the case. How many times does this happen? More frequently than anyone would care to know.
The Division’s position is that the Mother must accept, believe and embrace the notion that spanking is wrong, or else, she presents a risk to re-offend. But is this assumption logical? Plenty of parents believe in spanking, though the Division consider an acceptance of the practice as presenting a risk.
What about when children allege they have been sexually abused? A parent who does not believe a child’s disclosure is often villified as non-supportive. By contrast, a parent who believes the abuse that the Division does not believe may also be villified as emotionally harmful to the child.
In New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. G.L., 191 N.J. 597 (2007), our Supreme Court made cleat that a parent cannot lose parental rights because she does not believe the child’s other parent committed abuse against the child . So long as the parent is willing to ensure the child is kept safe (as required by the Court), risk does not exist. Nevertheless, in case after case, the Division mandates that parents acknowledge what the Division believes happened in the case in order to have children reunified?
As distasteful as this practice may be, parents should know that it exists so they make wise choices in how they interact with the Division. While attorneys cannot advise parents to lie, the extent to which feelings are acknowledged may delay reunification. What we always tell parents: You are entitled to believe whatever you want to believe … but you do so at your own risk.