If an investigator from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) comes to your house and takes your children away, the next 24 hours will be stressful and confusing. Your sole focus will be navigating the initial steps of the dependency case process. With this guide, we aim to make you more confident of your competency in dealing with the state and your chances of regaining custody of your children.
There is a possibility that the DCF investigator will not take actions to relocate your children. However, if there is evidence of imminent danger due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment, your children will be taken away and a shelter hearing will commence within 24 hours. The shelter hearing’s purpose is to determine the safest living arrangements for your children. A judge will either return your children to your care or keep them in state custody.
The next event in the dependency case is the arraignment hearing. In that hearing, a judge will hear evidence from both sides. An attorney will be assigned to you (your partner will also receive one) if you cannot afford one. At the arraignment hearing, you can admit to the allegations, agree to a case plan without admitting to the allegations, or deny the alleged wrongdoing, which will trigger an adjudicatory hearing.
The adjudicatory hearing is similar to a jury trial in which both sides present evidence and question witnesses. No jury is present for this, though; the judge remains the deciding party.
What’s important to note is the burden of proof needed to decide the case in the adjudicatory hearing is preponderance of the evidence. Unlike the reasonable-doubt burden used in criminal cases, preponderance of the evidence means that the side presenting a more accurate-seeming truth will prevail.
Case Plan/Review Hearing
After the adjudicatory hearing, the judge will decide to either dismiss the allegations or rule in the state’s favor, in which case a disposition hearing will be scheduled. During that hearing, the judge will review a case plan prescribed by the state. You have the option to submit to a case plan by the state before going to an adjudicatory hearing, but at this stage you risk losing complete custody of your children if you do not adhere to the state’s demands. A review hearing will occur six months after the disposition hearing to update the court on your progress with the case plan and determine if changes need to be made.
Permanency Planning Hearing
Several months after the review hearing, the judge will hold another hearing to determine whether or not your children can be returned to you. If the judge decides they cannot, then adoption or a new permanent residence will be decided for your children.
Finding yourself in the situation described above is disconcerting, and you might be feeling panicked. The most important thing is to ensure your child is free from harm and in a stable, loving household. An experienced attorney will help you maneuver the dependency case process and fight for your ability to retain custody of your children. Call us today at (305) 979-2267.