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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. L.C.

January 19, 2012


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FN-02-175-10.

Per curiam.



Argued November 30, 2011

Before Judges Graves, Harris and Koblitz.

Defendant L.C. appeals from a December 31, 2009 order to show cause for investigation and a January 12, 2010 order on the return date that fixed physical custody of her two children with her husband, A.C., allowed L.C. only supervised visitation and ordered her to undergo psychological evaluations. On May 4, 2010, the New Jersey Division of Youth And Family Services (Division) filed a verified complaint under a different docket number seeking the care and supervision of the two children with restraints regarding contact between L.C. and her children. The judge granted the new order to show cause and dismissed the investigation complaint.

On February 4, 2011, the court dismissed the new action after a fact-finding hearing. The court held there was insufficient evidence to sustain a finding of abuse and neglect and granted physical and legal custody of the children to both parents. We dismiss this appeal as moot.

L.C. and A.C. are mother and father, respectively, to Bruce (fictitious name), born in 2002, and Steve (fictitious name), born in 2007. On December 17, 2009, the Division received a referral from A.C. indicating that L.C. screamed profanity and threw a sandal at Bruce, causing a bruise on his leg, and punched A.C. in the mouth while in the presence of the children. A.C. also complained to Bruce's school, which then referred the matter to the Division.

After interviewing the members of the family, the Division caseworker devised a safety plan "wherein [L.C.] agreed to leave the children in the father's care until the Division further assessed the situation because [Bruce] had indicated he was afraid of his mother." A case plan was produced, specifying that A.C. and L.C. would "cooperate with the Division, submit to a psychological evaluation, and all contact between [L.C.] and the children would be supervised at the Division office." Both parties agreed to comply with the plan and signed Division agreements to that effect.

The Division brought an action for investigation against both parents pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12, which failed to allege a lack of cooperation by either parent. Nonetheless, the court entered an order to show cause for investigation requiring

L.C. and A.C. to appear before the court on January 12, 2010, and show cause why an order "should not be entered to permit the Division to investigate the circumstances of the minors and directing [L.C.] and [A.C.] to assist and cooperate with the Division in the conduct of its investigation pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12, Rule 4:67-1 and Rule 5:12-1." The order also mandated that L.C. and A.C. meet with the Division and cooperate with its investigation, that L.C., A.C. and Bruce complete psychological evaluations, and that all visitations between L.C. and her children be supervised.

On January 12, 2010, the court held a hearing on the order to show cause with both parents present with an interpreter, but without counsel. No witnesses testified and no evidence was introduced; rather, the Division provided the dates of the scheduled psychological and parenting evaluations and information regarding L.C.'s supervised visitation. The court asked if both parents understood the nature of the proceedings and if they had any questions, after which the court explained the importance of completing the evaluations expeditiously.

The court subsequently entered an order granting A.C. sole physical custody of the children, requiring both parents and Bruce to undergo psychological evaluations and L.C. to attend a parenting assessment, and allowing L.C. only weekly supervised visitation with the children. The order further stated that unsupervised visitation would be permitted if recommended after the psychological evaluations.

A case management review was held on March 30, 2010. The court was advised that the parties were participating in therapy, but the Division had yet to receive the psychological evaluations. Legal custody of the children remained with both parents, while A.C. retained sole physical custody. L.C. was receiving one hour of supervised visitation at the Division office and three hours of supervised visitation with her ...

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