NJ Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS)

I recently read a quote from Joseph Addison, an eighteenth century British author, which said, “Husband a lie, and trump it up in some extraordinary emergency.” It lead me to consider how family law attorneys categorize the notion of an emergency, often with a mixture of histrionics and hysteria, in contrast with how the rest of the world does.

In the world of family law, emergencies are governed almost exclusively by the filing of the well-conceived and ill-named Order to Show Cause. R. 4:52-1 of the New Jersey Court Rules governs the filing of an Order to Show Cause in most scenarios in Family Court, when we are seeking temporary restraints or injunctive relief. It addresses the standard for filing an emergent application, which we all know by heart by now is, that immediate and irreparable damage will probably result to a party or the parties’ child(ren), unless an Order is entered immediately.

As a former law clerk and current family law practitioner, I have a unique perspective on both the utilization and exploitation of the Order to Show Cause.  What was designed to ideally be filed judiciously and to address genuine emergencies is habitually used as a litigation tool to get our clients the instant gratification that they far too often seek. Fittingly enough, these applications filed to presumably accelerate a divorce proceeding often become the ultimate double-edged sword.Continue Reading A Day That Will Live In Exigency: The (Over) Use Of the Order to Show Cause

The Supreme Court of New Jersey’s recent decision in New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. L.L., provides a good opportunity to review New Jersey’s Kinship Legal Guardianship Act. The Act is designed to address the needs of children and caregivers in long-term “kinship” relationships, placing those children who cannot safely reside with their parents in the care of a relative or family friend. This placement option avoids the need to terminate parental rights where adoption is either unlikely or not possible. 

The Act defines a “kinship legal guardian” as a “caregiver who is willing to assume care of a child due to parental incapacity, with the intent to raise the child to adulthood, and who is appointed the kinship legal guardian of the child by the court[.]" From a legal rights standpoint, the guardian has the same “rights, responsibilities and authority relating to the child as a birth parent,” subject to various limitations set forth in the Act. By that same token, the birth parent can consent to an adoption or name change, must continue to pay child support, and can still have parenting time with the child as determined by the Court. As parental rights are not terminated, the Act logically provides that the child does not lose rights derived from the parents, such as rights of inheritance, benefits, etc.Continue Reading Supreme Court Rules on New Jersey’s Kinship Legal Guardianship Act

The Division of Youth and Services (“DYFS”) is this state’s prosecutorial agency for children who suffer from abuse and/or neglect at the hands of their caretakers.   DYFS is not an agency that many are or want to be familiar with.  For others, they are all too familiar with DYFS and the effect its involvement can have on their family’s life.

In a recent published Appellate Division decision, the Court reminded us of the standard of proof to be demonstrated by DYFS in a proceeding where they are seeking to terminate a parent’s rights to a child.  In DYFS v. A.R., A-5079-07T4, decided March 4, 2009, the Court set forth a detailed opinion and case history where DYFS failed to meets its burden of proof and thus lost its application to terminate the parental rights of A.R.

Some brief background of this case involves A.R. and her four children.  A.R.’s involvement with DYFS began in 2005, when the children were first removed from the home.  A.R. was married to an individual who was a known crack cocaine user.  A.R. herself had been a crack cocaine user but had entered and completed a rehabilitation program and was sober at the time this opinion was rendered.

After the first removal of the children in 2005, several months later the trial court entered an Order allowing for reunification.  This reunification did occur.  Not but two months later, the children were again removed as A.R. had allowed her husband back into the home and to be with the children while he was actively using drugs.  Two months after this removal, reunification was once again ordered.  One month later, the children were removed for a third time because A.R.’s husband was found in the house high on crack cocaine.  This time the children were placed under the care and supervision of DYFS and a law guardian was appointed.

DYFS filed a complaint for guardianship of the children.  At a hearing, the trial court ordered a bonding evaluation, which never took place.  A trial took place over a two month period.  The trial court denied the termination and guardianship application stating that DYFS did not satisfy its burden of proof.  The Appellate Division affirmed.

A parent’s right to “raise a child and maintain a relationship with that child” is constitutionally protected under the federal and state Constitutions.  Id. at pg. 15  “As a result, the State’s rights “is limited to situations in which the State has demonstrated that the child’s parent or custodian is unfit…or the child has been neglected or harmed.”  Id. at pgs. 15-16.  DYFS has the heavy burden, by clear and convincing evidence that this harm has not been cured, that the parent or custodian will continue to cause such harm and that terminating parental rights is in the best interest of the child.Continue Reading Standard of Proof To Terminate Parental Rights