Domestic Violence can be devastating to your life and personal safety. Trying to understand the laws and court procedures that protect you can be confusing. This is especially true if you have children.
When “third parties” (police, teachers, or neighbors) find out that a family with children is experiencing domestic violence, they will often call and refer the situation to the agency in charge of protecting children in New Jersey. This agency is called the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (Division). When the Division receives a referral about your family, it must investigate your situation. To find out more about your family, investigators from the Division will come to your house to interview you and your family. You do not have to talk to the investigators, but talking to them could help you. This article will help you understand what to expect when the Division becomes involved in your life because of domestic violence. To learn more about your rights during a Division investigation, see the list of resources at the end of this article.
If you are experiencing an emergency, you should call the police, even if this means the Division could get involved with your family. The Division and the New Jersey courts have a special protocol (system or guidelines) for working with victims of domestic violence and their children. The Division and the courts have two main goals: to keep you and your children together and to keep you all safe. The information below will help you understand how the Division and New Jersey courts handle cases that involve domestic violence and child welfare.
Seven Things to Know if the Division Is Involved in Your Domestic Violence Situation
- The Division cannot remove your children simply because you are a victim of domestic violence. When the Division investigates your family, they will interview you, your children, and the other people in your household. You should not be afraid to tell them about your experience with domestic violence. Simply being a domestic violence victim is not a reason for the Division to take away or remove your children. The Division and the courts receive special training about families and domestic violence. Child welfare experts say it is better for children to remain with the “nonabusive” parent (the parent who did not commit domestic violence). In New Jersey, there is a “presumption” that custody with the nonabusive parent is in the best interest of the children. (A presumption means the court will believe something is true unless somebody provides extra information that proves the belief is incorrect.) The court’s goal is to keep the child and the nonabusive parent together.
The Division can only take a parent’s child away if a court finds evidence of abuse or neglect. The Division may also remove a child without a court order if it can later show the court that the child was in immediate danger. Your caseworker cannot assume your child is abused, neglected, or in danger just because you experienced domestic violence. If the Division feels your child has been harmed by witnessing domestic violence, it must present evidence from an expert in court. The Division must also be able to show the court that you received social services but were still unable or unwilling to protect your children from harm.
- Your Division caseworker will help you find domestic violence services. The Division gives its caseworkers special instructions to help families who experience domestic violence. Your caseworker should connect you with groups that help domestic violence victims. Every county has a designated domestic violence agency with a 24-hour hotline that you can call.
Also, all Division offices have special workers called domestic violence liaisons. Domestic violence liaisons are trained to help victims of domestic violence who have open Division cases. Make sure your caseworker knows you have experienced domestic violence. Tell your caseworker that you would like to work with the domestic violence liaison.
- Your caseworker cannot do anything that puts you in danger. When the Division gets involved with your family, they may get an “order for care and supervision” from the court. An order for care and supervision means the Division can require you and your family to use certain services. They will also work with you to create a “safety plan.” A safety plan is an agreement between you and the Division that lays out steps you will take to keep your children safe. You have the right to get a copy of your safety plan from your caseworker.
The details of the safety plan will depend on your situation. For example, the Division may ask a family to attend counseling. The Division may tell a person with a history of abusive behavior to go to batterer’s intervention. Under New Jersey law, the Division may also get an order from the court to keep the abuser away from you, your home, and your children.
If you are not comfortable with something your caseworker suggests, you should tell him or her right away. For example, if you share an apartment with the abuser, the Division may want to get an order of protection to keep him or her out of your home. If you think the abuser would ignore the order and come to your apartment to hurt you or your children, tell your caseworker. That way you can work together to come up with a safer plan, such as going to a shelter or staying with a relative. You know the most about the abuser, your relationship, and your own safety. Your caseworker should never ask you to do something that puts you in more danger or makes you feel like you are doing something wrong.
- One judge should handle your domestic violence case and child welfare case. The New Jersey court system has a “one family, one judge” policy. This means that one judge should handle a family’s domestic violence and child welfare cases. The courts have adopted this policy because it allows judges to get a complete picture of your family’s history. When a judge has a good understanding of your family’s situation, he or she can make better decisions.
- Your caseworker will not automatically be involved if you have filed for a restraining order. When you go to court for a final restraining order or anything else related to your domestic violence case, your Division caseworker may not be there. Your caseworker will not have automatically given the court any information or reports about your situation. Also, the caseworker will not attend your hearings or be asked to “testify” (talk about you in court) unless subpoenaed or court ordered to be there. This is true even if your caseworker supports your decision to go to court for a restraining order. You may ask the judge to reach out to your caseworker if you want the court to hear his or her testimony. The court does not have automatic access to the Division’s file.
- Your caseworker and the courts will coordinate with the rest of your family. When the Division and the courts help you make plans for the future, they should consider how your family can help you. Your extended family can be an important resource to help you and your children. For example, you may be able to stay with a relative instead of going to a domestic violence shelter. If you think one of your relatives can help you, let your caseworker and/or the judge know right away.
- Your caseworker and the courts will not share your information with the abuser. If you and your children go to a shelter to escape the abuser, the Division must keep your new location confidential. Also, the Division must hide your address if it appears on any agency or court documents. Your safety and privacy are also very important to the courts. Before a judge asks you to share information, he or she will consider how it could affect your safety.
- You should not be afraid to call the police for help, even though the Division could get involved with your family.
- The Division cannot remove your children solely because you are a victim of domestic violence.
- The Division can help you and your family find the resources you need to keep yourselves safe.
- The Division caseworker will not automatically attend your domestic violence hearing. You can provide the judge with your caseworker’s name and number if you want the judge to contact him or her.
- The Division and the New Jersey courts want to keep you and your children together.
Where Can I Get More Help?
If you want to learn more about what happens when the Division investigates, read our article DCPP Is Knocking at My Door—What Are My Rights?
If you have any questions about your rights regarding domestic violence or child welfare, visit our online hot-line, or call 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529).
This information last reviewed: Aug 20, 2020