The Dependency Process
The thought of losing your children keeps parents up at night. It’s one of the many fears that the complex divorce process can bring up. For many parents, the nightmare gets worse. The possibility exists that an ex may accuse you of child endangerment or abuse. While you’re more likely to face a custody battle, you may find yourself facing the dependency process.
You can imagine what a terrifying time this must be for a parent. This article will go over the dependency process and how these cases go in Florida courts.
What is a Dependency Hearing?
“Dependency” refers to specific laws and actions regarding child safety. For example, a dependency action could result in cases where there are allegations of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. This can affect the outcome of custody proceedings.
The dependency process starts with a legitimate concern of child harm or the risk of child harm. Then, the Department of Children and Families will assign an investigator to look into the family situation. Sometimes the DCF will go one step further and take temporary emergency custody of your child. If this happens, your children are moved to a safe location during the investigation.
The most important thing to do during this process is to prepare, remain calm, and seek legal help. The process will continue until complete.
What is a Shelter Hearing?
Dependency cases are very time-sensitive. These arrangements usually happen same-day and often within hours. Within 24 hours, the court will schedule a hearing. This is the shelter hearing. This is when the DCF will present evidence of the dangers your children face in your custody. They bring an Emergency Shelter Petition to present to the judge. This outlines the allegations, recommended visitation arrangements, and temporary housing plan.
After the DCF presents its case, the process moves to arraignment.
What is Dependency Arraignment?
The parents will now be served the Petition for Dependency. After this, the arraignment must take place within 30 days. The arraignment is a hearing where you admit, deny, or consent to the allegations. This is the most sensitive step of the process, where legal counsel is absolutely essential. Sometimes the arraignment is the first step before children are removed. This step will skip the shelter hearing in these cases.
The Next Steps
The DCF will help parents develop a case plan to help address the situation. The process then advances to the pre-trial, where short hearings determine whether the court will accept or deny the case plan. If there is no agreement, adjudication must begin. During adjudicatory hearings, the DCF has to prove that the children have been abused, abandoned, or neglected. Again, the goal of adjudication is for the DCF to prove a case plan is needed to protect the children.
For this portion to be legally binding, it must occur within 30 days of the Dependency Petition. If the children are adjudicated dependent without a case plan, the court must hold a disposition hearing. This must happen within 30 days of the adjudication. The goal here is to determine what the case plan should concern. The parents will be able to present evidence at this point. This evidence should prove which tasks each parent must perform.
After the disposition, the court reviews the plan within 90 days. After this, there is a judicial review within six months of the children being placed in a shelter. This finalizes the child’s permanency and is the most important step to get your children back. It would be best if you worked with an attorney. Major hurdles can pop up, and knowing the process isn’t enough. Competent legal representation is essential to a successful dependency process.
Thompson Law is ready to represent you and fight for your children.