Preliminary DYFS Hearing
You are entitled to a brief first hearing, which is called a preliminary hearing. The preliminary hearing will take place either when DYFS files its case against you or soon after the case has been filed. At the preliminary hearing, the judge will decide whether or not DYFS has stated adequate reasons to continue its case against you. If DYFS has removed or seeks to remove your child, the judge must decide whether or not your child should be in placement while your case is going on.
When DYFS filed this case, you should have received an order to show cause telling you to come to court on a specific date. Many times the preliminary hearing is on that date. If DYFS removed your child on an emergency basis, without going to court first, DYFS must file a complaint within 72 business hours of your child’s removal. If you go to court then, you can have a preliminary hearing at that time. If you were not present when the judge signed DYFS’ order to show cause to remove your child, you can request a hearing and have one within three days of your request. We suggest that you contact our office prior to the preliminary hearing. It is very important to have an experienced New Jersey DYFS attorney present at the preliminary hearing to ensure your interests are fully protected. We may be able to obtain a dismissal of your case at this hearing.
At the hearing, the lawyer representing DYFS will try to convince the judge that your child should be removed from you. Our DYFS attorney will ask the judge to let your child stay with you or return your child immediately. Your child’s law guardian may also participate in the hearing. Our attorneys have the necessary experience to present your case effectively to the judge.
In some cases, the judge may not allow your child to stay with you while your case is going through the court process. We can help you arrange for supervision or services that might allow you to keep your child at home. Alternatively, DYFS might consent to your child staying with you if you have a home health aide or intensive in-home counseling.
If you need substance abuse treatment, there are a few small residential treatment programs where a parent and child can stay together. We will help you enroll in one if that is what you need. We may also ask DYFS to let you enter an outpatient substance abuse treatment program while continuing to care for your child.
Fact Finding DYFS Hearing
After discovery is completed, the fact-finding hearing provides an opportunity for the judge to determine whether or not you abused or neglected your child. You have the right to a fact-finding hearing. At this hearing, DYFS will try to prove that its claims against you are true. Our DYFS attorneys will meet with you prior to the fact-finding hearing to prepare your defense and review the presentation of your case. We will present evidence that defends you against the claims put forth by DYFS. It is important to contact our office early in the process so we can prepare a proper course of action to fight DYFS.
The attorney representing DYFS will present evidence and witnesses to prove that the allegations listed in the complaint are true. We will have an opportunity to defend you against these allegations. An important aspect of the defense is to object to certain documents that DYFS is introducing in court. Our DYFS lawyers will cross-examine the DYFS witnesses to help shed a positive light on your case.
In addition to the cross-examination of DYFS witnesses, our DYFS attorneys will have an opportunity to present evidence and witnesses on your behalf. Prior to the hearing, we will review the evidence and discuss the impact of certain witnesses on your case. Our goal is to reassure the judge that you are providing a safe home for your child without any form of neglect or abuse.
Preparing for your fact-finding hearing with is very important. We need to ensure that all of DYFS’s claims are reviewed and a proper defense is developed. We encourage our clients to let us know about any other related facts or witnesses you think would help explain your side of the story.
The judge will consider all of the evidence and legal arguments made at the hearing and decide whether you have abused or neglected your child. The judge must explain his or her decision in an oral or written opinion. If the judge decides that you did not abuse or neglect your child, your child will be returned to you, and your case will be closed. If the judge decides that you did abuse or neglect your child, the court will hold another hearing, called a dispositional hearing, to decide what should happen next. Our goal is to fully prepare your case so we can avoid a dispositional hearing. Sometimes it is inevitable.
Dispositional DYFS Hearing
The dispositional hearing usually takes place immediately after the fact-finding hearing. If the judge finds that you abused or neglected your child, either after a hearing or a stipulation, the judge must then hold this dispositional hearing to decide what should happen next. The judge will generally order you to take certain steps, such as participating in counseling or other treatment, to address the problems it believes you have. The judge will also decide whether or not your child can be returned home while you are participating in services or whether you must do certain things before you can be reunified with your child.
It is important for you to present all the necessary evidence for the judge to consider prior to the judge determining the steps needed for you to reunite with your child. If the judge finds abuse or neglect, we will fight to keep your child at home while you are receiving treatment or counseling.
Permanency DYFS Hearing
A permanency hearing will decide whether your child will return home or remain in another out of home placement. It essentially determines the “permanent” living situation for your child. If nearly a year has gone by and your child has been in foster care of another out of home placement, the judge will hold a permanency hearing. At this hearing, DYFS will present a plan to the Judge which will outline what your child’s permanent living situation will be. The Judge will review this plan and decide accordingly. Our DYFS attorneys will prepare and submit a plan on your behalf that will outline your child’s living situation for the judge to consider. We will discuss your options and create a plan that is suitable, realistic and one that you are comfortable with. For example, we can suggest that your child live with a specific relative or a family friend of your choice.
At the permanency hearing, DYFS bears the burden to prove that it made reasonable efforts to help you (unless the judge finds that DYFS was not required to help reunify you with your child).
DYFS can suggest any of the following in their plan:
- Reunify you with your child;
- Allow you to retain your parental rights while making your child’s current caretakers their legal guardians;
- Terminate your parental rights and allow your child to be adopted;
- Allow a friend or family member to have custody of your child;
- Place your child in long term foster care
It is important to contact our office early so we can avoid a permanency hearing. Our goal is to obtain a dismissal of the case prior to reaching this stage. We have the experience to help you through the process and look forward to discussing your case. Please submit an inquiry or contact us at 201-798-8000 for a free consultation with an experienced New Jersey DYFS Attorney.