Dependency Actions

West Palm Beach Family Law Attorney

A dependency action is a civil action by the state against the parents or guardians of a minor child to protect the child. It may result in the state taking custody of the child. Dependency actions are initiated when the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) receives information about potential child abuse. If you are in danger of losing custody of your child, contact a dedicated Florida family law attorney today.

Reporting Abuse

Parents and guardians are legally required to care for their children, ensure their physical wellbeing, and provide support, supervision, and guidance. The failure to do so may constitute neglect or abuse. Suspected child abuse should be reported to DCF. Calling the Florida Abuse Hotline will begin an investigation by a local agency.

Investigation

If a parent is being investigated in a dependency case, a child protective investigator will interview the child, parents, and any other adults living in the home. The investigator will check the house for drug or alcohol abuse or any other activities dangerous to a child.

If the investigator finds that there is an immediate risk of harm to the child, he or she can remove the child from the home. The child will be housed in a temporary placement home, usually the other parent’s or a relative’s home, or in foster care. The party with temporary legal custody of the child must provide food, shelter, education, and medical care, and must nurture and protect the child.

Petition for Dependency

Dependency actions begin with a shelter hearing, at which the court decides whether to keep the child out of the parent’s custody or to return the child home. If there is probable cause for removal and the child stays out of the parent’s home, DCF files a petition for dependency and the judge sets an arraignment hearing.

The parent can respond to allegations of abuse at the arraignment hearing. At the arraignment hearing, the court reviews the petition for dependency and asks the parent to enter a plea. The parent may admit or deny the allegations or refuse to admit or deny, but consent to the court’s involvement and to participate in case plan services.

If the parent denies the allegations, an adjudicatory hearing will be held at which witnesses testify and evidence is presented. After the arraignment and, if necessary, adjudicatory hearing, the parties develop a case plan, outlining the services necessary to resolve the issues and requirements for the parent to satisfy before regaining custody of the child. The court may order counseling and drug tests and may impose fines.

Finally, at the disposition hearing, the court reviews and approves the case plan. The court also determines who has custody of the child while the parent completes the plan. The parent has one year to complete the plan, and periodic review hearings will be held to discuss progress.

Reunification or Termination of Parental Rights

The court will allow the child to return to the parent’s home when the risks that caused the dependency action have been sufficiently alleviated.

In some rare cases, when the parent fails to complete the case plan, DCF may petition to terminate a parent’s parental rights. The parent is entitled to an attorney’s representation and to a trial at which DCF must provide clear and convincing evidence that the parent’s rights should be terminated.

If you are in danger of losing custody of your child, please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a free consultation.