Domestic violence does not discriminate. It is a scourge that touches on each and every one of New Jersey’s 568 municipalities. More often than not the victims of domestic violence are mothers who face a horrible dilemma. They need to protect themselves from a violent spouse or significant other, but if they report him to the police, they fear that the police will report the family to DYFS and they will lose their children.
Mothers who are victims of domestic violence need not navigate between Scylla and Carybdis anymore, thanks to a settlement reached in a class-action lawsuit on behalf of New York victims of domestic violence. The settlement in Nicholson v. Scoppetta has ended the practice of automatic removal of children who witness their mother’s being abused.
The settlement is not binding in New Jersey, but it is likely to have implications here.
In New Jersey, DYFS can remove a child from his or her home if there is neglect or abuse of that child. Removals sometimes happen in the context of an abusive household. When DYFS learns of domestic violence in a home with children, it will intervene in that family. Domestic violence can be part of a finding of neglect or abuse under New Jersey law. A victim of domestic violence need not fear being a second indignity when DYFS removes their child from the home.
The settlement in the Scoppetta case stands for the proposition that domestic violence in a home is not grounds for removal of the children in-and-of-itself. DYFS must take heed of this principle so that domestic violence victims don’t have to fear DYFS when seeking the police protection that they need.