All it takes is for one person to call DYFS (aka CPS) on you for your entire life to be turned upside down. Some people are more vulnerable than others, especially if they are working class or from a lower social-economic status, have a drug or alcohol history or have some past criminal issues. Because DYFS’ involvement often doesn’t start with a court case, many people don’t see a need to hire an attorney. They think it will all just go away as soon as DYFS realizes that nothing is there. Unfortunately for many, this is a bad move that could cost them.
What catches a lot of people by surprise is that DYFS is not limited to the original issue that brought them into your life. For example, if they received a call about child abuse and it turns out to be false, it doesn’t mean that they will just leave. If DYFS finds out that you have a substance abuse history, no matter how minor, they can force you to submit to drug testing. If they interview your children and they say something out of context, they can be taken away from you or you could be forced into more services. If you resist, your children may get taken away. If you confess to other wrong-doing such as alcohol abuse, you could find yourself in counseling. By the time people decide that enough is enough, it may be too late.
Many people have called me at the very early stages of DYFS involvement. When this happens, there is a lot that a skilled attorney can do. One of the more important tasks for an attorney at this stage is to keep the clients out of “the system”. In other words, limit the evidence that DYFS can gather against the client to shut down the case. Often, this involves getting private medical providers that are not connected with DYFS to review the issue in question and write a report. Oddly enough, these reports often do not suggest continued treatment while DYFS’ providers suggest prolonged treatment that never seems to end.
Besides gathering evidence to shut down a case, a DYFS attorney can make other moves that will help early. In these situations, sometimes less is more. Only a skilled DYFS attorney will be able to look at a situation to determine if the clients should talk or remain silent. Taking a one sized fits all approach never works. In some cases, making a statement could shut down a case. In other cases, silence is the best approach. Whatever the attorney decides to do, it should have a purpose. If a statement is made, the attorney must be present to control all questioning.
While avoiding court is always the goal, sometimes forcing litigation is good strategy but again, the lawyer must really understand his/her case and the incredible gamble that litigation involves. When the lawyer forces the case into court, it forces DYFS to lay all of their cards on the table. Without a court case, lawyer may not otherwise have access to any evidence. However, once in court, anything is possible. With DYFS providing all of the allegations to the court, the lawyer can now prepare better to defend the case and possibly prevent DYFS from getting more damaging evidence against the client. Court also gives the lawyer the chance to test DYFS’ case early and quickly shut it down.
When a case is in court, the attorney must constantly push the issue of due process. Discovery must be obtained as soon as possible and if necessary, a trial should be requested to test the strength of the case. More importantly, the attorney must nail the court down as to when and how the case will be closed and what is expected of the clients. Failure to be 100% specific could lead to disaster as words can be twisted around. The old saying, “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” has never been more appropriate.
Sometimes there is just so much damage done that the lawyer cannot make DYFS go away instantly no matter how much the clients want. As a lawyer, you have to play the cards you are dealt, and sometimes, they are bad cards. However, if the case is not in court yet, there is still plenty of opportunity to shut down the case and prevent the client from falling deeper into the system. In these situations, the lawyer must get in touch with DYFS as soon as possible and find out what needs to be done to close the case. Because DYFS has been known to constantly move the finish line farther and farther out as the client gets closer to it, it is important to nail them down to everything that needs to be done to close the case. Thus, once the client completes these goals, the case should be closed absent some extraordinary circumstances. Follow up is key to make sure that there are no new allegations that they can use to move the finish line farther back.
When you don’t have an attorney to help you deal with DYFS, you have no one to protect you. Because it does not cost much to assist clients with out-of-court DYFS cases, there is rarely a reason not to hire an attorney. Quite often, the earlier you hire an attorney, the cheaper it will be. Just make sure you hire the right one so that he or she can make the right moves for your case. As has been demonstrated in this article, there is no one-sized fits all approach to these cases.