How does the Title 9 Process work? What options do you have during these various phases?
DCPP litigation is initiated when a complaint is filed against you. The Attorney General’s office represents DCPP, and the government will appoint a lawyer, known as a “law guardian,” to represent your child. You may obtain private legal counsel or seek legal assistance through the Office of Parental Representation.
When does litigation start?
It can begin before or after the government takes your child from your custody. The government must have a court order to take your child away, unless it believes that there is an “imminent danger to your child’s life, safety or health.” In fact, according to the agency’s mandate, the Division is supposed to engage in “reasonable efforts” to allow your child to stay with you – to keep families unified — and it is also supposed to make an effort to reunify families after children have been removed.
But DCPP does not always act so solicitously.
The Division has two days to file a complaint, once it has removed your child from your custody, but it can also deny you access to your child during an investigation. For instance, the other (custodial) parent might agree to keep the child away from you by signing a Safety and Protection Plan.
If the Division tries to keep your child away from you using this tactic, consider trying to force the issue; otherwise, you’ll give the Division more time to compile a case against you. Plus, when you accelerate the process, it becomes more likely that the Division will make a mistake, per New Jersey Administrative Code, that you can exploit.
Once the complaint has been formally served, you (along with your attorney) need to make a decision about whether to file an Answer. Answers are not required and, in fact, are quite rare. However, in certain cases, it might make sense for you to fight back and challenge DCPP’s allegation that your child is “in imminent danger to life, safety or health.” That’s a high standard, after all. The Division must provide the court (and legal counsel) with expert evidence and documents, which it plans to use at trial.
Believe it or not, sometimes the Division withholds documents that could help a defendant be proven innocent! That sounds unfair (and it is). But you should go into the process appreciating that the Division often fails to act as a neutral entity. Be prepared to meet that bias strategically.
Unfortunately, the defense is limited in its ability to use discovery to submit additional evidence. This can put you at a disadvantage. You are not allowed, for instance, to depose case workers without a Court Order authorizing it. You also can’t demand that a child be subjected to a psychological examination, without jumping through additional hoops. Basically, the division gets to put forth its case over months, while you effectively have to “sit there and take it” until trial. This part of process can be quite painful, for obvious reasons, especially if you have to listen to blatantly untrue or highly exaggerated accounts of what actually happened.
For skillful, experienced assistance battling back against untrue allegations of child abuse or neglect, call the Williams Law Group, LLC immediately at (908) 810-1083.