This series discusses the ins and outs of requesting emergency child custody in New Jersey. To read the other articles, visit The Micklin Law Group’s blog.
DCP&P is an acronym for the Division of Child Permanency and Protection. This is the organization that’s charged with protecting children in New Jersey. Someone may contact this organization if they believe the child’s other parent is abusing or neglecting them. If your child is in an emergency situation, does it make sense to call DCP&P? I call it a double-edged sword.
Weigh the Pros and Cons of Involving DCP&P
First of all, in my personal opinion, I don’t believe any parent should be required to contact DCP&P for the protection of their child. I think every parent should be responsible for his or her own child’s safety, and if you think there’s a risk of harm to your child, for some of the reasons we mentioned, then you should blaze into court and demand the court’s intervention. The reason I say it’s a double-edged sword is because judges will often ask you, “Did you contact DCP&P first?” And if your answer is no, a lot of judges will say, “Well, you obviously didn’t find it that important or that urgent because that’s what they’re there for.”
There is merit to the judge’s question. DCP&P is there for emergent intervention, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. So generally, my recommendation is to contact DCP&P first when there is an issue, albeit they can be very slow because they’re high volume. If they don’t find anything urgent, that’s another problem because now you called DCP&P who didn’t find it to be urgent. So the court’s going to say, “Well, they went out and didn’t find it to be urgent. Why are you bringing it to me?”
It’s not up to anybody but you to decide if there’s a risk of harm to your child. Just because a case worker in DCP&P who might be well-intended doesn’t feel there is risk does not mean that there isn’t, and it does not mean that you shouldn’t take other steps.
Can Law Enforcement Help with Emergency Custody?
Speaking of other steps, commonly people will seek the intervention of law enforcement and police officers. This isn’t usually helpful when a child is in the other parents’ custody. Technically law enforcement has no authority to intervene and assist in any kind of custody matter. They can’t enforce a court order largely because they have no basis to know if the order is effective, if it was authentic, or if it’s been modified. All they have is a piece of paper and a signature. For all they know, you typed it yourself. Absent a restraining order, there’s no central database that has the records of these things.
So police can’t go and enforce a court order unless there’s specific language in the court order to do so, and that’s generally not going to be there. However, contacting law enforcement can be helpful because they often act as if they have the authority, and many people do believe they have authority. So their actions do net a result, even though it technically shouldn’t. If they can’t help, at least you have some witnesses to whatever’s going on. If you call them, they’ll go out and do wellness checks and they’ll witness what’s happening. They’ll get statements. They may file reports. You too can file a report and if you keep the names of the officers that you contacted or that responded, you’ll have witnesses for future issues and court appearances, if need be. This can ultimately help you out when you’re requesting an emergency hearing.
If you are considering contacting law enforcement or DCP&P to address your co-parent’s abusive or neglectful actions, speak with an attorney before making your decision. Our custody lawyers at The Micklin Law Group can help. You can give us a call at 973-562-0100.