Is Leaving A Child Alone In Your Car an Act of Abuse in New Jersey?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Feb 29, 2020 | 0 Comments

Sit in on any New Jersey child custody proceeding and there's a high likelihood that you'll witness mudslinging on both sides. Despite how amicable parents claim to be before stepping into the courtroom, the nature of custody disputes often brings out the worst in people. In the most contentious situations, parents resort to controversial allegations of abuse or neglect that could put the other's parental fitness in question. 

As one would expect, matters involving domestic violence, substance abuse, and abandonment are territories that judges won't take lightly. But in the state of New Jersey, merely leaving a young child alone in your vehicle could be deemed child abuse - but not always. So, the next time you think about running into Starbucks to get your favorite frappé while your child stays strapped in the car, you should think again.

The Case

Parents everywhere scoffed at the verdict of a case involving a woman who left her sleeping toddler in a vehicle. In 2009, the mother shopped at the Middlesex Mall in South Plainfield for no more than 10 minutes while her child was strapped in a car seat with the engine running. The sky was overcast and the temperature was 55 degrees, case documents state. By the time she returned to her vehicle, the police were waiting to arrest her. 

The mother claimed that she left her daughter in the vehicle because she didn't want to wake her. Later that day, a caseworker visited the woman's home for an inspection and found no evidence of neglect or abuse in a home in which her husband and four of her other children resided. But the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency filed a complaint against the woman and her husband anyway. 

The woman appealed and requested an administrative hearing, but she was denied on multiple occasions. Ultimately, a three-judge appellate panel agreed that the woman's actions constituted gross neglect and thus did not require an administrative hearing. 

Judge Clarkson Fisher Jr. wrote that there was a risk of “car theft or kidnapping,” and that if it had been a hot day, the temperature in the vehicle could have quickly spiked to dangerously high levels. “A parent invites substantial peril when leaving a child of such tender years alone in a motor vehicle that is out of the parent's sight, no matter how briefly,” Judge Fisher went on to mention.

The woman was placed on a permanent registry of child abusers, despite the fact that her child was not harmed and social workers found no evidence of abuse or neglect in the family's home. 

The Appeal

New Jersey's highest court reversed the ruling that found the woman guilty of child endangerment in a unanimous 7-0 decision. One of the judges named Mary Catherine Cuff wrote: “Any allegations of child neglect in which the conduct of the parent or caretaker does not cause actual harm is fact-sensitive and must be resolved on a case-by-case basis.

At the end of the day, one “mistake” or lapse in judge judgment (which isn't even the case in this situation) shouldn't be a basis for taking children away. But the circumstances could leave you with a child abuse charge.

New Jersey Family Law Attorney 

The representation of a seasoned family law attorney is required in child custody disputes. Navigating the New Jersey court process without legal advice is risky in an environment where the stakes are high. Let attorney Joseph D. Lento help you. Schedule a consultation today by calling 888-535-3686. 

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a veteran of one of the nation's busiest family courts with nearly 20 years' experience passionately helping families. By day, he worked in the trenches of family court, and at night, he studied the law. He helped countless families while working at family court, and he went on to become an attorney, dedicating his law practice to continuing the work he started years earlier. Mr. Lento's experience both behind the scenes and on the front lines allows him to understand a client's family law matter from all angles, and allows him to find and employ the most effective strategies to get favorable outcomes for any client. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in New Jersey and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings! He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and protects their interests.


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