Defense Strategies in New Jersey DCPP Cases
DCPP Defense Attorneys Handling Child Abuse and Neglect Litigation in Bergen County and throughout NJ
If you have been accused of child neglect or abuse by New Jersey’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency, you may be outraged and wish to contest your case to the fullest extent of the law. When facing allegations involving child abuse or child neglect, it is important to know some of the highly effective defense strategies in DCPP cases. Our experienced DCPP litigation attorneys have successfully handled thousands of cases and hearings in courts across New Jersey, including Title 9 abuse and neglect cases, Fact-Finding hearings, Permanency Hearings, Guardianship trials, and more. For example, one of our lawyers, Brent Dimarco, has handled numerous DCPP investigations and court proceedings in Bergen County, Morris County, Essex County, Passaic County, Hudson County, Middlesex County, and throughout the state. Mr. Dimarco and our team will help devise the most solid defense strategy to challenge accusations of abuse or neglect that you are facing. For more information and to speak with an experienced DCPP defense attorney free of charge, call (908)-356-6900 or contact our offices through our convenient online form anytime. Consultations are always provided free of charge.
Understanding DCPP Case Process
DCPP can seek to remove your child from your home if they believe your child is the victim of child abuse or neglect of a child. The agency can remove your child on an emergency basis prior to a formal court hearing, but only in cases of imminent danger to the child’s life, safety, or health. Alternatively, in cases that do not involve an imminent risk, DCPP may file a complaint in New Jersey Superior Court requesting removal. Either way, you will have an opportunity to appear with an attorney to contest the removal decision and fight to keep your child.
If DCPP removes your child on an emergency basis, they must file a complaint in court within two days of the removal to provide you with an opportunity to contest the removal. Or DCPP may remove your child and turn over the child to another parent or guardian and ask that they keep the child away from you while they investigate their abuse and neglect case. In this situation, DCPP is not required to file a complaint within two days, and you will have to apply in Superior Court on your own to regain custody of your child.
You and your attorney will have an opportunity to file an answer to any complaint filed, refuting DCPP’s allegations of abuse and neglect, and you will have an opportunity to contest DCPP’s evidence at a hearing as well. To understand the defenses that you can raise at this hearing, you must understand what DCPP has to prove to justify removal of your child.
What does DCPP Have to Prove for Removal of Your Child in NJ?
DCPP must establish that your child has been harmed and that you are unable or unwilling to fix the problem, such that your child is at risk of continuing to be harmed. The agency must also establish that you have been offered assistance to help you resolve your household issues, but the problems still remain. DCPP must also prove that there are no other alternatives beyond removal of your child and termination of your rights as a parent. In other words, the agency must establish that they considered alternative courses of action but had to reject them. Finally, DCPP must show that the termination of your rights as a parent will result in a net positive impact on the child.
You can fight DCPP’s case for removal of your child by proving that they did not satisfy each of the requirements outlined above. DCPP has the burden of proof in these cases, meaning it is their job to establish that removal is necessary, and they should be held to a high standard. Your attorney can contest their evidence and force them to justify themselves every step of the way.
Top Defenses in NJ DCPP Litigation
Your attorney can argue that DCPP did not consider the downsides of removing your child. Termination of parental rights can be extremely hard on a child. If your attorney can establish that your child’s social life, school performance, or general mental health has declined as a result of DCPP’s intrusion into your life, this defense may be particularly effective.
Your attorney can also argue that DCPP did not meaningfully attempt to help you fix the problem that they have allegedly identified. DCPP is required to offer you resources and work with you on a good faith basis to correct any suspected problems in the household. If DCPP did not meaningfully engage with you before rushing to court or, even worse, before removing your child on an emergency basis, your attorney may be able use this defense to great effect.
On a related note, if DCPP has ignored or failed to consider efforts you have made to prevent any harm to your child, your attorney can raise that failure as a defense. Your attorney can point out positive steps you are taking in caring for and raising your child to contest the alleged instances of abuse or neglect highlighted by DCPP. And, of course, you and your attorney can put on evidence indicating that your child has not, in fact, suffered any abuse or neglect.
Undermining DCPP’s Investigation and Complaint
In addition to attacking each of the key elements of the government’s case, you can also employ a strategy of discrediting the government’s trustworthiness, command of the relevant facts of the case, and the thoroughness of the government’s investigation by assisting your attorney in your own investigation of relevant incidents underlying your DCPP case. You can sit for interviews with your attorney, direct your attorney to other key witnesses who may have knowledge regarding the alleged child abuse or neglect, and you can provide your attorney with key medical records, school records, and other records that may assist in your defense.
Once your attorney has examined your documents and interviewed all the relevant witnesses, you can begin drafting a detailed answer to any Verified Complaint that the government filed in your DCPP proceeding. Your complaint to contest each and every allegation of abuse or neglect outlined in the government’s papers. If you are able to identify even one material factual inaccuracy in the papers that the government submitted to the court, you will strike a serious blow to the government’s credibility. New Jersey courts are directed not to take a child away from their home without significant proof, and if you expose government overreach or sloppiness, you may be able to win the court over to your side early in the DCPP case. This point-by-point refutation of the Verified Complaint can help you overcome both a DCPP complaint based on one instance of child abuse and/or neglect or a DCPP complaint based on a series of alleged incidents. The agency should pay for any sloppiness in an investigation with so much at stake.
Challenging Evidence of Child Abuse and Neglect
Your attorney can also request copies of all relevant investigation and expert reports compiled by DCPP case workers, psychologists, and other expert or other witnesses who will help them justify removing your child. The government is often able to submit such reports in your DCPP court proceedings because they are business records, but your attorney can still prove each and every fact contained within the reports themselves. If they contain hearsay-within-hearsay, or attenuated descriptions of alleged child-abuse that was not received from someone with direct knowledge of the incident of abuse or neglect, you attorney may be able to object to that evidence coming before the judge. You and your attorney may be well-advised to comb through government reports line-by-line for inadmissible evidence.
Undermining the Credibility of DCPP Experts and Expert Reports
DCPP will often rely on the opinions of mental health professionals to establish that removal of a child is preferable to leaving them in their current home. Your attorney can attack these expert reports on a number of grounds. In many cases, inexcusable as this may be, a mental health professional will be overworked and may only have a few minutes to examine your child’s particular case. They may simply copy and paste pre-written conclusions into their report to support the state’s case. These copy-and-paste reports can often be identified by typos in the names involved, irrelevant information, and discussion of facts that do not apply in your case. Your attorney can use this sloppiness to argue that the court should have little faith in this particular expert witness’s opinion. And, as discussed above, your attorney can attack hearsay-within-hearsay contained in these reports, or secondhand information and rumors that do not come from someone who actually witnessed the abuse or neglect incident at issue.
Additionally, your attorney can attack an expert report by noting that the expert relied on the same inaccurate facts that you identified in your answer to the Verified Complaint. If the expert relied on fault information, your attorney can attack the weight that the court should give that expert’s ultimate opinion on whether the child has been abused, neglected, or should be removed from the home. Your attorney can also question any mental health professional’s qualifications to offer specific opinions, including medical diagnoses of your child, and can use relevant scientific literature (most commonly the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition, or DSM-V) to question the accuracy of any diagnosis the mental health professional has made.
Find Help Litigating a Child Abuse & Neglect Case in NJ
The above defenses that can be used in DCPP litigation represent just a few of the defense strategies that your attorney can employ in fighting a DCPP case. An experienced New Jersey child protective services defense lawyer at our firm will be able to tell you much more once we have heard and reviewed all of the relevant facts. Contact us at (908)-356-6900 for a free consultation. An attorney on our DCPP defense team can examine your unique situation and discuss whether any of these or other strategies apply to your case once we have talked with you and learned all of the relevant circumstances. With several convenient office locations, we are ready and able to represent you in Hackensack, Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, Edison, Woodbridge, Toms River, Hamilton, Clifton, and other towns throughout New Jersey.