Thursday, May 31, 2012
In New Jersey, there are specific laws that control and outline procedure for neglect cases (see N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(c)(4)(b)). The statute defines an “abused or neglected child” as one “whose physical, mental, or emotional condition has been impaired or is in imminent danger of becoming impaired as the result of the failure of his parent or guardian . . . to exercise a minimum degree of care.”
In Div. Of Youth & Family Servs. v. T.B., the mother of a four-year-old left her sleeping child at the house that she shared with her parents because she assumed that, her mother (the maternal grandmother) must be home because her car was in the driveway. She made this assumption based on the fact that Maternal Grandmother was always home on Sunday evenings. Maternal grandmother was not at home and the child wandered over to a neighbor’s house, and the neighbor called the police.
The Division of Youth and Family Services (“DYFS”) sent a caseworker to the house and the New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed DYFS’ finding of child neglect and approved placing Mother on the Child Abuse Registry. The Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division holding that Mother’s negligent conduct did not rise to the level of gross negligence or recklessness. Here, Mother made a mistake when relying on past experience that Maternal Grandmother was always home on Sunday nights and was always home when her car was at the house. Mother’s failure to make sure that someone was in the home was not enough to be a failure to “exercise a minimum degree of care” as required by the statute.
There is no clear line between committing negligence and gross negligence. The court is driven by the facts in each case when making that determination. The conduct of the parent and the circumstances surrounding the incident will be heavily scrutinized by the court. There are many times when it is acceptable to have a children at home alone, especially with two parents that are working. However, in divorce and custody disputes, it is safe to say that each parent’s behavior will be much more heavily scrutinized than if the parents were still together.
If you have questions or concerns about caring for your child or leaving your child alone, please contact an attorney.
Written by Allyson Lutley, law clerk at Law Offices of Linda A. Kerns, LLC.