To Comply or Not to Comply—How to Handle a DYFS Investigation
What to Do if You're Being Investigated by DYFS or DCPP?
What to Expect from a DYFS or DCCP Visit
Anyone who has ever had to deal with DYFS or DCPP will tell you what a nightmare it can be. Typically it starts with a knock on the door and a seemingly innocent round of questions. Investigators can come across as very friendly and will generally try to make you feel like everything is okay and there is no problem or risk. But before long, New Jersey DYFS investigators or caseworkers will be demanding random checks, or private interviews with children. Depending on the allegations DYFS may demand you complete other services as well. These services may include:
- urine screens
- substance abuse evaluations
- psychological evaluations
- parenting classes
- domestic violence counseling
- visits to your child's school,
- speaking with ex-spouses,
- speaking with doctors, and
- attempting to get you to sign releases for information.
As a New Jersey DYFS DCPP Defense attorney, the question I receive most often is:
Do I have to comply with DYFS demands?
I wish this question had a simple answer, but unfortunately it does not. On the one hand, when dealing with a DYFS investigation there is typically no court order requiring a parent to do anything for DYFS. On the other hand, if the parent doesn't comply with the investigation, the Division always has the power to go to court, or worse yet, remove the child or children from the home.
The goal with any out of court DYFS investigation is two-fold.
- First, to keep the case out of court.
- Second, to get DYFS to go away. Once a case goes to court it becomes much more complicated and, in turn, much more expensive.
How to Keep a DYFS Investigation Out of Court
Keeping an investigation out of court requires knowledge of the New Jersey law that applies to DYFS. There are statutes that require DYFS to take certain steps when an allegation of abuse or neglect is received. If an individual does not allow DYFS to complete there investigation, DYFS will likely go to court seeking what is known as an Order to Investigate. This can be avoided if you know a few key things.
The key to keeping a DYFS investigation out of court is to know what DYFS is required to do and what they aren't required to do in order to complete their investigation. I am surprised at how many people, including DYFS workers and lawyers, have no idea what these requirements are. For example, DYFS is required to interview the person alleged to have committed the act. If the person cannot be interviewed, DYFS will likely seek an order to investigate. On the other hand, DYFS is not required to obtain a drug test from the person accused of abuse or neglect. What this means is that if a person refuses a drug test, depending on the circumstances of their individual case, DYFS may not immediately rush into court.
If there is little to no evidence to suggest that the allegations are true, allowing DYFS to complete their investigation may result in a prompt resolution of the matter. If, on the other hand, there is significant evidence to suggest an allegation of abuse or neglect may be true, there may be nothing that can be done to prevent the case from going to court. In those instances it may be better not to cooperate so as to prevent DYFS from obtaining incriminating evidence against you. In yet another scenario DYFS may have strong suspicions of abuse or neglect but little evidence. In these cases they may push very hard for interviews, evaluations, and collateral information to build a case against you.
An additional thing to keep in mind is that it is possible to comply with DYFS without subjecting yourself to their services. For instance, DYFS may demand that someone complete a substance abuse evaluation. It is quite natural to have doubts about the accuracy and objectivity of an evaluation done by practitioners who receive funding from DYFS. A good attorney can negotiate the acceptance of a neutral third-party evaluation.
In sum, dealing with DYFS is difficult and tricky. I sometimes refer to DYFS investigations as a game of chicken, with clients trying to avoid the Division just enough to avoid having a complaint filed in court. Most caseworkers make the threat of litigation very prominent in their investigations. When an individual has never had to deal with such a threat before, the threat can have the coercive effect of making an individual submit to any number of services, some of which may be completely unrelated to the allegation that led to the investigation in the first place.
In sum, There is no easy answer to make DYFS go away and there is no simple answer to the question of whether or not an individual has to comply with their demands. Each and every case is unique. The best thing is to seek legal representation as soon as possible. A qualified DYFS attorney can give you advice on the best way to proceed based on the details of your situation.
It is crucial to keep in mind that every situation is unique.
The information contained in this article is for general information only and is not designed nor intended to be applied to any particular situation. This information is not provided as legal advice and should not be taken as such.