Drunk Driving (DWI) with a minor child in the vehicle

How a few drinks and a DUI with a child in the car can turn into a crime and a child custody dispute in Bergen County NJ

DWI with a minor child in the vehicle in NJ
DWI with a minor child in the vehicle in NJ

Anyone caught driving drunk or impaired with a minor child in the car in New Jersey faces a loss of license for driving under the influence, a possible criminal conviction for endangering the welfare of a child (child endangerment), involvement with the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P), and sadly, even a potential loss in custody of their child. Attorneys who are not familiar with all of the risks and potential consequences for such a specific form of DUI offense are likely unable to adequately address the issues you are facing. Troubleshooting and “seeing the forest through the trees” is of paramount importance in cases involving a DWI with a minor in the car. One seemingly simple decision can have a ripple effect on so much more, including the well-being of your child.

Fear not, though. You’ve come to the right place. The highly skilled criminal and DWI defense lawyers at The Tormey Law Firm have decades of combined legal experience in this area and will evaluate your case early, direct the course of litigation, and outline potential pitfalls of any decisions you make while navigating you toward the best possible resolution. In fact, we handle cases from all sides when our clients are facing legal matters in criminal court and family court that arise from DWI/DUI with a minor passenger arrests and accusations. If you have been charged with driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence of drugs with a child in the car in Hackensack, Elmwood Park, Fort Lee, Paramus, Ridgefield Park, East Rutherford, Teaneck, Palisades Interstate Park, or another Bergen County town, contact our local Hackensack office at 201-330-4979 to speak to an attorney free of charge regarding your case.

Charges for Driving while under the Influence with a Minor Passenger in New Jersey

Typically, a DUI is a motor vehicle ticket and is not a crime.  If charged with a DUI in New Jersey under NJSA 39:4-50 as a first offender, you face a loss of license until you install an interlock ignition device (exceptions apply) and various fines, penalties, and surcharges. Of course, the penalties increase the more DUIs you have and the higher the level of blood alcohol concentration in your blood or drugs found in your system. Nonetheless, while a person can go to jail for a DWI, such a ticket is not a crime. However, a drunk driving offense can serve as the basis for a criminal complaint when there is a minor in the car. In fact, a DWI/DUI with a child passenger is a distinct charge classified as a disorderly persons offense under New Jersey law. Specifically, according to NJSA 39:4-50.15(b), a parent or guardian who is convicted of driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence and who at the time of the violation has a minor as a passenger in the motor vehicle is guilty of a disorderly persons offense.

That means, a DWI with a child carries criminal penalties including a six-month period in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. These punishments are enhanced, meaning issued on top of the other penalties that are issued against the defendant for the basic DUI charge. Recent changes in the DUI penalties in New Jersey have little to no impact on what can happen to you if you receive a DWI with a minor in the car. 

Endangering a Child’s Welfare through DWI in NJ

Additionally, anyone who drives while intoxicated with a minor in the car can be charged with endangering the welfare of a child under N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4.  Such a charge can be filed as a second or third degree crime which permits a state prison term of 5-10 and 3-5 years, respectively. If you are the child’s parent or legal guardian, the charge is graded as a second degree, while spells harsher penalties, a longer prison term, and fines up to $150,000. Even at the lowest level fourth degree crime of title 9:6-3 abuse and neglect will allow imposition of a state prison sentence of 12-18 months.  This, coupled with the fact that DCPP can be involved makes it even more important to contact an aggressive defense attorney immediately.  

Multiple Court Venues for Drunk Driving with a Child in the Car

This type of case has the potential to be litigated in four different courts and your attorney must be skilled in each in order to be successful. Although the situation varies from case to case, the way the case progresses and spans across different courts is relatively the same. The best way to explain how a case progresses is more easily understood by way of example. For instance, imagine that a woman attends Thanksgiving dinner at a family member’s house across town. She brings her two children with her, as she is divorced and it is her turn to enjoy parenting time for Thanksgiving. After eating, drinking, and having a good time, Gina decides it’s time to go home and get the children settled in for the night.  She says her goodbyes, hops in the car, and heads home. Midway home she is pulled over by the police who find her to be driving while impaired.  She is arrested for driving while intoxicated, taken to the police station, and thereafter charged with DWI with a minor passenger and endangering the welfare of a child. During the course of her stay at the police station, the father of the children is called and so is DCPP.  The children are given to the father who then takes them home to his house.

If the defendant woman is lucky, she is released on a summons instead of a warrant-complaint for child endangerment and also given the motor vehicle tickets and charges for the DUI. Once charged with the crime of child endangerment, she will be given a notice of her first appearance in the Superior Court in the county in which the alleged offense occurred. If she were simply charged with the DUI with a child in the car at the time, a disorderly persons offense, and a run of the mill DWI offense, she would be required to go to the Municipal Court in the town (not county) where the offense took place.  But because she was charged with the companion crime that is a felony, the DWI and the criminal offense(s) will be heard in the Superior Court, Criminal Part and not Municipal Court. Making matters even more complicated is the fact that  DCPP or the father will have the option of filing a complaint in the Family Division, Superior Court, for the removal or change in custody of the children. 

When DCPP gets Involved after You have been Arrested for DUI with a Minor in the Vehicle

Anything a defendant says or does in the criminal case can and can impact what happens in the family court case. This is because DCPP can determine that the act of driving drunk with minors in the car is child abuse and neglect, thus serving as the basis for legal intervention and possibly removing the children from the parent’s custody and care.  Alternatively, DCPP may not file for removal if the children are removed from the potential harm by being placed with the other parent, and a person is entitled to defend themselves in court against unfounded allegations of child abuse or neglect. Nonetheless, the agency can intervene and require that a person charged with driving impaired with their children receive services.  Such services can include a psychiatric evaluation, drug and alcohol treatment, and a periodic review so as to reduce the potential harm to the children. Additionally, even if the child welfare agency does not seek removal, your ex-spouse can and may file for a change in custody based on behavior that is considered contrary to the best interest of the children. Obviously, a DWI with a child, criminal charges with potential state prison time, and change in custody can forever change the lives of both you and your children. 

Arrested for DWI with Minor in Bergen County? Call our Hackensack Law Office Now

If you or a loved one is facing the potential consequences of a DWI/DUI with a minor child in the vehicle, contact our law firm in Bergen County for immediate assistance at (201)-330-4979. The initial consultation is always provided free of charge. We are happy to answer all of your questions and help defend you in every court where your case is being adjudicated. Once retained, we will act as the intermediary between you and the police, DCPP, the municipal court, and the prosecutor assigned to your criminal case in the Superior Court. 

We will thoroughly examine the facts surrounding the motor vehicle stop and potential motions that can be filed to suppress the evidence and fight your case.  Also, we can fight the case from the perspective of directing you through DCPP involvement, Title 9 proceedings, and the custody case.  Your children and their future are too important to go it alone. Start fighting for your family by contacting us today.


If you’ve been charged with a criminal offense, disorderly persons offense, or traffic / DWI violation, you have the right to an attorney who will defend you against your charges and fight for your best interests. To learn more about how your attorney can fight to have your charges dismissed or reduced, click a link below to see our video library of legal defenses and strategies.