Leaving Kids in Cars: What Counts as Abuse?

Leaving Kids in Cars: What Counts as Abuse?The Media’s Portrayal

Every summer, the media is rife with accounts of parents facing criminal charges for leaving their children in hot cars unattended. Children can quickly overheat and die if left in a hot car without sufficient ventilation or water. And, because enough parents have made poor judgment calls on leaving their child in a car, many states now have laws addressing this issue. New Jersey does not have a law that specifically prohibits parents or caretakers from leaving children in cars unattended. It does, however, strongly recommend against it.

Where to Draw the Legal Line

It is not strictly illegal to leave your child in your car unattended, nor is it considered abuse or neglect in and of itself by New Jersey’s CPS agency, the DCP&P. But you could still potentially face DCP&P involvement and an investigation under certain circumstances. If your child suffered harm while left in your car, the DCP&P could argue you neglected your child. If your child did not suffer harm, the DCP&P might still try to argue you were neglectful, but their case would be dependent on the facts of the case.

Factors that could influence your case include:

  • The age and maturity of your child
  • Your child’s health (e.g. was your child particularly vulnerable to dehydration)
  • The reason why you left your child unattended (e.g. was it an emergency?)
  • What was the temperature and weather forecast
  • Did you leave any windows open? How much?
  • Were the doors unlocked?
  • Did you leave your child alone or with another child?


Even if your child was not harmed, the above factors could be considered during a child abuse investigation. The risk of harm your child faced could be enough to warrant DCP&P involvement.


When facing such allegations, it’s important to first consult with an attorney. Even though New Jersey does not have a statute addresses this issue, certain aggravating factors can prompt criminal charges. A knowledgeable New Jersey child abuse and neglect defense attorney can help you navigate your case from start to finish so you can protect your rights and clear your name.



Fighting for your child and your family is stressful, but the knowledgeable attorneys at the Williams Law Group, LLC have the experience needed to defend your rights as a parent and protect your child’s best interests. Located in Short Hills, New Jersey, Williams Law Group, LLC provides compassionate and dedicated legal services to Union, Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Monmouth, and Middlesex counties, and the surrounding areas. Our knowledgeable attorneys handle divorce and family law, child custody, and child abuse/neglect cases. Call our office at (908) 810-1083, email us at info@awilliamslawgroup.com, or contact us through our confidential online form to schedule a consultation and ultimately get you connected with an experienced New Jersey divorce and child custody attorney.


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