All About Dispositional Hearings in DCPP Cases
What Happens Before, During, and After Dispositional Hearings in DCPP Cases and How to Prepare for Yours in NJ
When the Department of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) contacts you about a child neglect or abuse complaint, your heart probably races, and your thoughts turn to white noise in panic. The family domain is sacred, so an outsider and government official criticizing your parenting and threatening your family can be horrifying. However, a referral to DCPP does not determine that you committed neglect or abuse. A referral initiates an investigation, possibly leading to a dismissal or a dispositional hearing.
To help you through the difficulty you face in a legal proceeding, you should get assistance from an attorney who is highly familiar with DCPP proceedings. With our experience, guidance, and reassurance, it can make the process less frightening for you and your family. We can assure you that the initial referral does not mean losing parental rights. Before determining whether the complaint is true, DCPP interviews you and your children to confirm or invalidate the referral. The matter may end there when DCPP finds the referral unsubstantiated, or it may proceed to a dispositional hearing after an Order to Show Cause and Preliminary hearing. Regardless of the route that your case takes, our lawyers can help with protecting your rights and walking you through the process from beginning to end. Contact us for a free consultation anytime at (908)-356-6900.
Before a Dispositional Hearing in a DCPP Matter, What Occurs?
The Order to Show Cause hearing occurs when DCPP files a complaint laying out the accusations that you neglected or abused your child. In it, they may ask the court to protect your child by placing the child with relatives or other temporary care. However, DCPP may not seek removal of the children if you take specific steps to safeguard your child. After the complaint filing, the court sets a preliminary hearing where you can appear and admit the allegations are true, submit on the complaint, or dispute it. Should you deny the allegations, the court sets a hearing date to hear evidence. The timing of the hearing depends on whether DCPP made an emergency removal of your child. If so, the preliminary hearing occurs the day after the complaint filing. At the hearing, the judge reviews the sufficiency of the DCPP case and decides if it should go forward. They also decide where the child or offending parent lives and if supervision is necessary. The judge can also order drug testing, anger management classes, a psychiatric evaluation, or substance abuse treatment.
The initial hearing establishes when the parties should have had a chance to gather their evidence and prepare to argue their cases before a family court judge. Part of the evidence may be reports from the various service providers, such as drug counselors, psychiatrists, and other providers ordered to render services at the preliminary hearing. The judge may also schedule further hearings after the preliminary hearing to check on the case’s progress, called status or case management conferences. After discovery, an exchange of information between the parties, the fact-finding hearing at which both parties present their cases occurs. There, DCPP presents evidence to support their claim of abuse or neglect against you, and you refute those allegations with your proof, just like a trial.
Inside Look at Dispositional Hearings in DCPP Cases
Soon after, a dispositional hearing occurs. That hearing follows the judge’s decision that the neglect or abuse charge against you is valid, including the reasons for the determination. There, the judge sets out the plan for you to complete, such as parenting classes, counseling, or substance abuse rehabilitation, before the next hearing. It is also where the judge determines where the children live. They may remain with you under specific conditions or live somewhere else (relative, foster home, or group home) until you complete the steps laid out for you in the DCPP plan and the judge’s ruling. The judge may also have orders for DCPP, which does not get any special status or preference at the dispositional hearing. Moreover, the evidentiary rules for admitting evidence in DCPP cases are not as strict as in criminal cases. Thus, you can bring all documentary and testimonial evidence that supports your parenting skills and contradicts DCPP’s evidence of abuse or neglect.
A court’s placement in the family home means the parents follow a Family Maintenance Plan to complete satisfactorily and eventually close their case. Placement outside the home requires participation in a Family Reunification Program, guiding the parents to the child’s reentry into the family home. Completing the Reunification plan allows the child to return to the family home. From there, the court may have further steps for you to complete in a reunification plan. You may appeal the judge’s dispositional hearing ruling by filing the appropriate appellate paperwork within 45 days of the dispositional hearing.
What if I Skip a Dispositional Hearing?
While you have the right to a defense and an appeal, you do not have the right to miss the dispositional hearing. When you know you cannot attend the set hearing, you can seek your lawyer’s help in obtaining an available date. You want to inform the court of your inability to attend the hearing. A judge can issue an arrest warrant for you or enter a default against you in the case. That means you have no say in the proceedings and the outcome.
What Comes After the Dispositional Hearing?
After the disposition hearing, the court sets a review hearing or hearings to check on the progress of the parties and a permanency hearing when the case stretches out to a year or more. At the permanency hearing, DCPP offers a permanent plan for the family, such as permanent placement outside the home. As such, the court examines whether the current arrangement is working and, thus, whether the child should remain at the house or temporary residence or permanently placed elsewhere. You have the right to offer an alternative plan.
An Experienced DCPP Attorney Can Help You Navigate Through a Dispositional Hearing in NJ
Knowing your rights and the proceedings order is essential to fighting for your child’s safety and security in their home. Having a seasoned attorney by your side is the ideal way to protect your rights and challenge DCPP’s case in the court system. Our firm can ensure communication with DCPP, that evidence is ready for the fact-finding and disposition hearings, and that you are prepared to testify or answer a judge’s questions. Knowing the law, we may object to improper evidence or procedures on DCPP’s part and argue for allowing your evidence in for consideration. At all hearings, we can help present evidence contradicting DCPP’s allegations and supporting your assertions.
You do not have to face DCPP alone at a vulnerable time. Talk to a DCPP defense lawyer at our office who knows DCPP and the court system to help you through a challenging time. We can guide you through the dispositional hearing and the entire process, including the maintenance or reunification plan reviews and permanency hearing. Call (908)-356-6900 for a free consultation if you need help with a disposition hearing, an investigation, or any other aspect of a child abuse or neglect matter in New Jersey. We operate statewide, including Cranford, Edison, Paramus, Woodbridge, New Brunswick, Fort Lee, Parsippany, Nutley, Livingston, and elsewhere in New Jersey.