It only takes one person to call you DYFS (aka CPS) and your whole life can be turned upside down. Some people are more vulnerable than others, especially if they are working class or of low socioeconomic status, have a history of drug or alcohol abuse, or have a criminal record. Because DYFS involvement does not usually begin with a court case, many do not see the need for a lawyer. They think that once DYFS realizes there is nothing, everything will go away. Unfortunately, for many people, this is a bad move that could cost them money.
To the surprise of many, DYFS are not limited to the original issues that brought them into your life. For example, if they get a call about child abuse that turns out to be fake, that doesn’t mean they’re going to leave. If DYFS finds out that you have a history of substance abuse, no matter how minor, they can force you to undergo a drug test. If they interview your child and say something out of context, they may be taken away from you, or you may be forced into more services. If you resist, your child may be taken away. If you admit to other misconduct, such as alcoholism, you may find yourself in need of counseling. By the time people decide enough is enough, it may be too late.
Many people called me in the early stages of DYFS involvement. There are many things a skilled attorney can do when this happens. One of the lawyer’s more important tasks at this stage is to keep the client out of “the system.” In other words, limit the amount of evidence DYFS can gather against a client to close a case. Typically, this involves having the issue reviewed and a report written by a private medical provider not affiliated with DYFS. Oddly, these reports often do not recommend continuing treatment, and DYFS providers recommend protracted treatment that never seems to end.
In addition to gathering evidence to close a case, there are other steps DYFS attorneys can take that will contribute to an early resolution. In these cases, sometimes less is more. Only a skilled DYFS attorney can determine, based on the circumstances, whether a client should speak up or remain silent. Taking a one-size-fits-all approach will never work. In some cases, making a statement may close a case. In other cases, silence is the best approach. Whatever a lawyer decides to do, it should have a purpose. If a statement is made, a lawyer must be present to control all questioning.
While avoiding the courtroom is always the goal, sometimes forcing a lawsuit is a good strategy, but again, a lawyer must really understand his/her case and the incredible gamble involved in litigation. When lawyers force the case to go to court, it forces DYFS to put all their cards on the table. Without a court case, a lawyer may not otherwise be able to obtain any evidence. However, once in court, anything is possible. With DYFS providing all of the allegations to the court, attorneys are now better prepared to defend the case and potentially prevent DYFS from obtaining more damaging evidence for their clients. The court also gave lawyers the opportunity to hear DYFS’s case early and to close it quickly.
When a case goes to trial, attorneys must constantly push due process issues. Discovery must be obtained as soon as possible and, if necessary, a trial should be called to test the strength of the case. More importantly, lawyers must make clear to the court when and how their cases will be closed, and what is expected of their clients. Not being 100% specific can lead to disaster as words can be misinterpreted. As the saying goes, “It’s hard to move an inch” couldn’t be more appropriate.
Sometimes, the damage is so great that attorneys can’t make DYFS go away right away, no matter how much the client wants to. As a lawyer, you have to play the cards in your hand, and sometimes, they are bad cards. However, if a case has not yet opened, there are still plenty of opportunities to close the case and prevent the client from getting further entangled in the system. In these cases, the lawyer must contact DYFS as soon as possible to find out what needs to be done to close the case. DYFS is known to continually move the finish line farther and farther away as clients get closer to it, so it is important to identify them with all the work that needs to be done to close the case. Therefore, once the client has accomplished these goals, the case should be closed, barring exceptional circumstances. Follow-up is key to making sure no new charges can be used to push the finish line back.
When you don’t have a lawyer to help you with DYFS, you have no one to protect you. Because the cost of assisting clients with out-of-court DYFS cases is not high, there are very few reasons not to hire an attorney. Generally, the sooner you hire an attorney, the lower the cost. Just make sure you hire the right person so he or she can take the right action on your case. As this article demonstrates, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to these situations.
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