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.

Frivolous Litigation brought by DCPP


When a party to litigation files an action or asserts an affirmative defense to an action which he knows has no basis in law or in fact, the adverse party may serve notice pursuant to the Frivolous Litigation statute seeking withdrawal of the frivolous pleading within 30 days or an award of sanctions will be sought. See, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-59.1. The requirements to seek sanctions for frivolous litigation can be found in Court Rule 1:4-8.

So, one must wonder: Can Frivolous Litigation sanctions be sought against the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) when it asserts a knowingly unsupportable position to achieve temporary custody, or worse, to ratify a Dodd removal (i.e., a removal performed with no court order)?

The short answer is Yes, but courts are not likely to enter sanctions against the Division for many reasons:

1. If DCPP pays out money to recompense parents for its wrongdoing, those funds will not bd available to help other families genuinely in need of services.

2. The time, effort and cost involved in unearthing a “knowing falsehood”, rather than an inadvertent one, disincentivizes courts to allow exploration of the issue in pending court actions, and filing a new court action creates all sorts of problems with confidentiality.

3. Most judges are not willing to say that s/he erred by believing the Division, which is almost universally done in removal hearings. Doing so would undermine the court’s ability to give deference at the start of a case (which will make decision-making that much harder and more time-consuming).

So, should you seek sanctions against the Division, with this great likelihood of being unsuccessful? Absolutely!

Unless and until the court is presented with a compelling pattern of egregious overstepping by the agency, as demonstrated through aggressive applications by wronged parents, errors on the part of the agency will continue to appear as misguided efforts to protect children, rather than part and parcel of a pattern of abuse by the agency guided by its culture of ill-conceived arrogance about parenting and families.

Rome was not built in a day. Similarly, upending the culture of overreaching by the Division will not occur in a day. We must be ever mindful of the need to battle this culture, and the frivolous litigation statute is one way of doing that.

If you or someone you know has been the subject of a wrongful custody action or removal of a child by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (i.e., DCPP/DYFS), please contact us to Schedule a Consultation to discuss how we can help.

DCPP Segway into Custody Litigation


In New Jersey, as in most jurisdictions, the court must consider whether or not a child would be subjected to abuse or neglect in the care of any parent seeking legal and physical custody of the child. Consequently, the outcome of an abuse or neglect case brought by DCPP can be very significant for custody litigation. When a parent has been found by the agency or a court to have abused or neglected child, however, that finding is not dispositive of the custody issue.

Here are a few points to consider when contesting custody, after a finding of abuse or neglect has been made:

1. An agency finding without court intervention can, and often does, indicate an isolated incident that is of no further concern to the agency. Pursue an administrative appeal, if for no other reason than to alert the custody court that you contest the agency finding.

2. The court finding often occurs long after the problem has been remediated. Many times an allegation of abuse and neglect does not reach a fact-finding stage for many months, even a year, into the case. By that time, services have been offered to the family and the problem has resolved.

3. If abuse or neglect allegations arise during the pendency of a custody case, parents’ financial resources often limit them to litigate in only one forum. The parent may stipulate in order to get rid of the agency case and invest resources in the custody case.

Further, the agency is often more willing to be lax in its involvement with the family if the parent stipulates to expedite the process. However distasteful that may be, the reality should be addressed with the custody court so as not to prejudice a litigant seeking custody.

4. The broad, amorphus definition of neglect often makes less-than-perfect parental behavior a violation of law. Many times, parents can persuade the agency to change its finding if the facts of a contentious divorce are fleshed out in a custody case while the abuse and neglect case is ongoing.

5. Sometimes, both parents have engaged in some form of abuse and neglect; however, only one parent is accused and has a finding made against him. That does not prevent the other parent from filing his own Title 9 complaint or raising allegations of abuse or neglect in the custody case. The fact that the agency did not accuse the adverse party of abuse or neglect does not negate its existence.

In sum, do not assume that a finding by DCPP ends the custody case. Many times, it is merely an unfortunate blip on the radar screen that must be explained through custody and parenting time evaluations, custody mediation and trial.

For more information, please feel free to contact us and schedule a consultation.

Happy New Year from NewJerseyDYFSdefense.com!


As we say goodbye to 2012, we here at New Jersey DYFS Defense want to take some time to reflect on where we have been and where we are going.

In April 2010, NewJerseyDYFSdefense.com was launched by our founder, Allison C. Williams, Esq. Ms. Williams created this site to serve as a portal of information for attorneys who represent parents in child welfare matters involving the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), formerly known as the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). The site became an invaluable resource for the bar, housing periodicals and scholarly articles published by Ms. Williams over the years.

Then in 2011, Ms. Williams began to see a need to expand the reach of our site. Members of the public sought legal advice, information and guidance on how to defend against actions brought by the State, as well as how to handle agency investigations, negotiate case plan and navigate services – either prior to, during or after litigation. As more and more individuals sought guidance, Ms. Williams began to shift her focus from making the site’s invaluable information accessible, to making herself available for consultation and representation.

Now, in 2012, NewJerseyDYFSdefense.com has become an entity unto itself. Ms. Williams posts content about this obscure and complicated area of law including social commentary, legal analysis and practice pointers not designed to serve as legal advice. As a result, NewJerseyDYFSdefense boasted record volume, averaging HUNDREDS of site hits per day. Ms. Williams’ career has blossomed.

In 2012, she became the first African American attorney to gain Fellowship in the New Jersey Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. She was appointed to a New Jersey Supreme Court Committee – the Board on Attorney Certification Matrimonial Committee. Ms. Williams also took the helm as the Chair of the Certified Attorneys Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association.

These accomplishments, while impressive, have meant the most to Ms. Williams in one key area of her practice — i.e., her ability to marshal these efforts to continue to help families embroiled in litigation against the State of New Jersey. As a thought leader in this area of the law, NewJerseyDYFSdefense.com has been cited by the media in evaluating the defense position in matters before the New Jersey Supreme Court. And, most recently, Ms. Williams was recognized as a thought leader when invited to appear on the Katie Couric show to blog on the topic of parents falsely accused of child abuse.

We envision even greater accomplishments in 2013. It is only through zealous advocacy, vocal and visible debate on child welfare topics, participation in the legislative process where these matters are implicated and service to the profession through aggressive advocacy and caring for clients that we will be able to change the Child Welfare system for the betterment of families in New Jersey and society as a whole.

We hope you will continue to post your comments, visit the site for updates on this area of the law and contact us with any questions, concerns or requests for representation.