Under Chapter 39 of Florida’s statuary law, the state may take custody of your child or children following allegations of parental abuse, neglect, or abandonment. This type of legal proceeding is known as juvenile dependency. Even if you aren’t the parent in question but fail to contact the authorities, you can be held liable for facilitating a child-related crime. To protect the future of your family, hire an attorney as soon as you become involved in a juvenile dependency case. The family law attorneys in Gainesville, FL, from The Law Office of Silverman, Mack & Associates, can help parents keep custody over their children by representing them in court. Contact us today to schedule a dependency hearing consultation.
Juvenile Dependency Hearings
Dependency hearings are a complicated process — make sure you have the proper representation from our Gainesville law firm. The state or any person with reason to believe a child-related crime is taking place can begin a juvenile dependency proceeding. Fortunately, parents have the right to be notified of the case and may attend all hearings involving their child. Juvenile dependency hearings could include the following.
Once someone brings forward claims of child abuse, negligence, or abandonment, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) gets involved. Within 24 hours, authorities remove the child from the parent or guardian’s home, and soon after the shelter hearing begins. This hearing determines if the child will be returned home or remain out of the custody of the parent or guardian. If the child remains sheltered, DCF will file a Petition for Dependency (PFD), and the judge will set another hearing called an arraignment.
At a disposition hearing, the court reviews and accepts the case plan and determines who has custody of the kids while the parents complete their case plan. Florida law gives parents one year to complete their case plan. This time limit can be shortened or lengthened under certain circumstances — our attorneys in Gainesville, FL, can explain these circumstances and help parents with judicial hearings.
An adjudicatory hearing is a trial in which witnesses are called to testify about the allegations in the case and evidence is presented. Afterward, the judge decides if the DCF has proven its case — there is no jury in juvenile dependency cases. Rather than the quantity of evidence, it’s the quality that matters the most. If the case is proven, the court schedules a disposition hearing. If not, the case is dismissed.
At the arraignment hearing, the court reviews the allegations brought forward in the PFD and asks the parents to submit a plea. Next, the parent has three options: admit to the claims, consent to a case plan without admitting to the allegations, or deny the allegations and request an adjudicatory hearing. The most common of these three scenarios is consenting without admitting to the allegations. Before agreeing to a case plan, both parties’ lawyers meet to craft a plan that addresses the charges brought forward and remediates any dangers to the children in question.
Every six months, the court schedules a judicial review hearing. During this hearing, the court reviews the child’s placement, whether they’re in a foster home or with their parents. This hearing also serves as a time to check on the progress of the case plan and ensure everyone is doing what they’re supposed to be doing with the child’s best interests in mind.
When the court determines that it’s safe for the child to return to their parents and the risks brought before the court are alleviated, the child is then reunited with their parent or legal guardian. This decision is largely dependant upon the parent’s compliance with the case plan. After reunification, the court must monitor the family for at least six months.
Termination Of Parents’ Rights
In some cases, DCF may file a petition to terminate a parent’s rights. A Petition for Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) requests the court to end all legal rights of a parent. Most commonly, a TPR petition is filed because of a parent’s failure to complete a case plan — although there are several other reasons to file a TPR. Our Gainesville attorneys are here to help parents understand the finer details of a TPR and how to avoid it.
What Are Parents’ Rights During Juvenile Dependency Proceedings?
Throughout the proceedings, parents have a right to attend all hearings, hire an attorney, and challenge the allegations. In addition to these fundamental rights, parents may also request copies of any DCF or Guardian ad Litem report filed in the case or presented at a hearing, receive services to help get the child back, inquiry about any costs for services, inquiry about medical treatment and travel if the child is placed outside of the home, and maintain contact with and visit the child unless otherwise ordered by the court.
What Is A Guardian Ad Litem?
A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is someone who represents the best interests of the child in the court case. A GAL is separate from the DCF and the court so that they can provide the judge with independent information and recommendations on things such as the child’s welfare, the progress of the case plan, appropriate visitation type, the child’s residence and school, and a reunification timeline. A GAL might visit with the child, discuss your situation, and get more information from family members, teachers, doctors, and others who know you and your child.
How Can A Family Law Attorney Help?
Juvenile dependency proceedings can often be complicated and drawn out, so it’s crucial to have a trusted attorney experienced in family law by your side throughout the process. Our team at The Law Office of Silverman, Mack & Associates is dedicated to helping parents understand the juvenile dependency process and defend your rights — our goal is to get your children back home to you safely and promptly. Contact us today to schedule a free legal consultation or learn more about our other services in criminal law, injunctions, and expungement.