What is a Dodd Removal?


When DCPP, the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (formerly, DYFS, the Division of Youth and Family Services) investigates an allegation of child abuse or neglect, and uncovers what it believes to be “imminent risk of harm”, the Division may remove the children from the home immediately without a court order. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.28. This removal is referred to as a “Dodd” removal, named after the legislator who sponsored the legislation giving the Division this right. Once a Dodd removal occurs, the Division must be before a judge seeking a court order ratifying the Dodd within two court days.

What constitutes “imminent risk of harm”? That varies from county to county, and frankly, from investigator to investigator. However, some general parameters include child sexual abuse where the alleged perpetrator is in the home; physical child abuse that would rise to the level of an “aggravating circumstance” that would relieve the Division of its obligation to make reasonable efforts to avoid placement; abandonment (i.e., child in the home with no caregiver), or acts of a similarly serious nature.

Unfortunately, the Division will, from time to time, act improvidently in removing children from their home. This may occur in circumstances where the parent has been voluntarily accepting services from the Division over a period of time, and the agency ultimately comes to the conclusion that it is tired of trying to work with the parents and feels court intervention must be imposed upon the family to effectuate the positive result sought.

It is also not unheard of that the agency will threaten to do a Dodd removal in order to scare parents into signing contracts with the agency, allowing unfettered access to a home, signing releases for medical or mental health information that is otherwise protected, and similar overreaching to accomplish what they otherwise could not.

Many times, parents will contact counsel after the fact and claim that they only signed agreements and authorized the release of confidential information upon threat of removal by the Division. Such tactics constitute a gross violation of the public trust and misuse of government authority. Unfortunately, my experience has been that judges are upset by improvident removals than by noncooperation by parents when the Division investigates. Therefore, one must not casually disregard the Division’s threats to remove children, even when the parent believes the agency could not ultimately prove “imminent risk of harm” in court.

If you or someone you know has been contacted by the Division seeking to investigate, before denying access and facing potential removal, contact Paragano and Williams, LLC for a consultation.

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.