What a difference a year makes!


In litigation brought by the division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP)(formerly the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS)), one year is a very significant benchmark in the case. After one year in litigation, the court is required to conduct a permanency hearing and to approve a plan to achieve permanency for the child. That plan may include reunification with the parent, termination of parental rights followed by adoption, kinship legal guardianship with a relative, or one of three other alternatives. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.50.

Though there is no statutory requirement for litigation to last one year, anecdotal experience from child welfare attorneys supports that this is typical. Various, however, a requirement for a permanency hearing within one year pursuant to the a
Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA).

Further, parent educational materials distributed in child welfare courts, provided by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), that the case should be resolved with reunification, if possible, within one year.

But should we accept the de facto presumption that the litigation must last a year? Does having a one-year “benchmark” allow the agency to justify its delay in implementing necessary services to achieve reunification? Does having a one-year benchmark encourage the agency to talk on additional requested services for family over the course of that year, knowing that the practice typically includes a one-year period of litigation? And because it is exceedingly rare that a court will not grant the agency its request for additional services, what is lost, really, by requesting more and more and more of a parent because the agency has one year to play with?

It is a dirty little secret of child welfare agencies that services are often provided to families solely for the purpose of meeting the statutory requirement down the line to terminate parental rights. Now that ASFA requires concurrent planning, the agency cannot take this “over servicing” approach with only those families anticipated to have termination in their future; it adopts this approach for all families.

The consequence of this “standard operating procedure” is that many families are simply tortured by a one-year entitlement by the agency to control its life, rather than a strategic, directed approach to help families and end litigation. It is true that many families achieve reunification before the end of litigation, as a parent may seek return of the child at any time, which shall be granted unless there is evidence of harm to the child’s health, safety or welfare. See, N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.32(a). Yet, it is all too common that the division successfully opposes reunification upon the stated concern that a lapse of perfection upon reunification will only result in a subsequent removal.

This concern is not totally unwarranted. However, the one year benchmark is far too often used as a guillotine over families, rather than a tempered response to the circumstances presented to the court. Wow the benchmark appears to be here to stay, we should not accept that one year is a magic number that should guide most cases. Each case requires and deserves a case-by-case individual approach.

If you or someone you know is involved in child welfare litigation that appears to be dragging on needlessly, contact Paragano & Williams, LLC for assistance resolving your matter expeditiously.

Non-Offending Parents in Sex Abuse Cases


NewJerseyDYFSdefense.com received an inquiry regarding the Division’s hostility toward non-offending parents in sexual abuse cases. Allison C. Williams, Esq. responded to this inquiry, and since then, we have received very favorable responses to that Reply in Comments. For that reason, we have decided to republish that post here.

Counsel is involved in a matter involving alleged sexual abuse by the Father wherein the Mother believes in his innocence in a northern county. She represents the non-offending parent who firmly believes her husband’s innocence. The following suggestions are made 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 our office and schedule a consultation with Allison C. Williams, Esq.

DYFS Cases name both Parents as Defendants


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.