Legal Services of New Jersey (LSNJ) coordinates the statewide Legal Services system in New Jersey, which provides free legal assistance to lower-income people in civil matters. Part of Legal Services’ mission is to make people more aware of their legal rights and provide helpful information if they choose to pursue a legal case on their own. Awareness may allow you to resolve some problems on your own, without the need for a lawyer, or to make better use of a lawyer if you have one. LSNJ wrote this handbook to help parents when the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) files a court case to place their children in foster care, based on claims that the parents have abused or neglected their children. The printing of this handbook has been funded through a federal Court Improvement grant.
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Important notes about using this handbook
This handbook does not give advice about a particular legal problem that you may have, and it is not a substitute for seeing a lawyer when you need one. Always talk to a lawyer, if you can, before taking legal action.
The information in this handbook is accurate as of February 2011, but laws often change. Please check back here for updates to this handbook.
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How to use this handbook
Being involved in a child abuse or neglect case can be confusing and stressful. This handbook will help you understand what may happen. It will explain the court process, the choices you have, and what you can do to improve your chances of keeping your family together or getting your family back together
Although everything in this handbook may not apply to your situation, reading the handbook will give you information that will help you deal with your situation.
Keep this handbook with you so you can keep track of important information about your case. On the inside front cover, you can write down the names and phone numbers of the people involved in your case. At the end of the handbook, you will find worksheets to write down the dates of your court hearings, appointments, and visits with your child.
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Getting legal help
If DYFS has filed a court case against you and your income is low, you may be eligible to have a lawyer appointed to represent you through the Office of Parental Representation (OPR), which is part of the New Jersey Public Defender system. You may also apply to Legal Services of New Jersey’s Family Representation Project for assistance. This is explained later in this handbook.
You may want legal advice about dealing with DYFS even if there is no court case against you. If you need the advice of a lawyer but cannot afford one, you may be eligible for Legal Services. Contact the regional Legal Services program that serves your county. You can find a list of programs and telephone numbers on the inside back cover of this handbook.
You can also contact Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, LSNJ-LAW™, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529). The hotline provides information, advice, and referrals in civil legal matters to eligible low-income residents of New Jersey. This service is provided at no charge to callers who are financially eligible. If you do not qualify for Legal Services, the hotline will refer you to other possible resources.
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Mary M. McManus-Smith, LSNJ Chief Counsel for Family Law, made revisions for this edition of the handbook, originally written by Nancy Goldhill, former LSNJ Vice President and Assistant General Counsel, and Bebe Shear, former LSNJ Senior Attorney. Contributions to this handbook have been made by Jeyanthi Rajaraman, LSNJ Supervising Attorney; Diana Dunker, former LSNJ Supervising Attorney; Patricia Myers, LSNJ Supervising Social Worker; Donna Hildreth, LSNJ Director of Training and Professional Development; and members of the New Jersey Children in Court Improvement Committee. Susan Perger, Publications Director at LSNJ, handled the editing, design, layout, and production. Thanks to LSNJ Editor/Writer Tricia Simpson-Curtin for proofreading.
Melville D. Miller, Jr. President
Legal Services of New Jersey
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Copyright © 2011 Legal Services of New Jersey
This information last reviewed 10/28/11