Leaving A Child Alone In A Car Is Child Abuse, Isn’t It?

We have all heard the stories of a parent leaving a child alone in a car
for minutes, or hours, with sometimes grave consequences. Most parents
wonder how it is possible to forget a child in a car or feel safe leaving
your most precious cargo venerable in a car when you are not there. In
this context, DCP&P (the Division of Child Protection and Permanency)
becomes involved when a parent is reported to have left a child alone
in a car. But, is it child abuse? The answer is now…it depends.

On August 20, 2015, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the case of
Department of Children & Families v. E.D.-O. This case began with a parent leaving her 19 month old child in a running,
locked vehicle, unattended, for 10 minutes while she went into a shopping
center. No harm came to the child during those 10 minutes. However, DCP&P
determined that the parent was grossly negligent, otherwise known as child
abuse, because she was guilty of leaving a child alone in a car.

The mother appealed DCP&P’s finding of gross negligence and the
appellate division affirmed. The case went to the New Jersey Supreme Court,
who found that the mother’s conduct was neglect. However, the conduct
alone did not constitute gross negligence. Once you have been found to
have engaged in child abuse, your name becomes part of a central registry
of child abuse offenders. Therefore, the court determined that the standard
for a finding of gross negligence is higher and without actual harm, there
needs to be a wider evaluation.

Writing for the court, Judge Cuff indicated that “[a]ny allegation
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.” In essence, the court made it clear that the standard is
whether a parent’s conduct presents an imminent risk of harm to
the child at the time of the alleged act of negligence (leaving the child
in the car in this case). When looking at these types of situations, DCP&P
cannot take a categorical approach and must look at the totality of circumstances,
not just the parent’s poor decision in not wanting to wake a sleeping
toddler while running into a store.

Contact Us For Help on Your Case

What does it mean for you? In simple terms, DO NOT EVER LEAVE A YOUNG CHILD
IN A CAR, EVEN FOR 10 SECONDS. If you have committed this infraction and
are fortunate to not have any negative consequences come to your child,
but find yourself receiving visits from DCP&P, you need legal representation

We can help you navigate the child abuse and neglect laws in light of this
Supreme Court decision to ensure the punishment fits the lapse in judgment.
If you or anyone you know has any questions regarding this new case or
what happens when leaving a child alone in a car,
s. Child abuse is serious business and the consequences for you and your
family will be difficult. You need an advocate in your corner that can
help you through this trying time.

We will not tell you what you want to hear. We will tell you what you need to know!

About the Author


John Nachlinger is a co-founder and managing attorney of Netsquire, a family law firm focused on streamlining divorces through effective mediation, settlement drafting, and court filing assistance. As a New Jersey Supreme Court Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and Qualified Mediator, John guides couples toward equitable agreements without the cost and stress of litigation.

Recognized as a New Jersey Super Lawyer for over a decade, John’s client-focused approach aims to foster understanding during challenging transitions. With a background spanning top law journals, judicial clerkships, and boutique family law firms, John now applies his analytical skills to create workable solutions for all parties. His mediation services reshape the divorce journey by prioritizing compassion and compromise.

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