How to Approach a Florida Dependency Case

When Child Protective Services (CPS) receives allegations of child abuse or neglect, they can open a dependency case to investigate those reports. In some cases, parents may lose custody of their child or need to temporarily rehome their child while engaging in a dependency case. Knowing what to do if you find yourself embroiled in a dependency dispute is vital if you want to maintain your parental rights.

To schedule a consultation with our team for your custody dispute, contact us online or via phone at (305) 853-9161.

When Do Dependency Cases Start?

Individuals who suspect a child is being abused or neglected by a parent can submit a report to the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF). Some individuals, such as teachers or physicians, are mandatory reporters who must report suspicions of abuse or neglect if they have any. Other individuals can submit reports of potential abuse or neglect at their own discretion.

Once DCF receives a report, investigators will begin the process of determining whether a child is indeed being abused or neglected. This can involve running background checks on parents to determine whether they have a history of child abuse, as well as visiting the child's home and conducting interviews with the child, their parents, and other persons of interest.

If DCF investigators believe a child is in danger of suffering from further abuse or neglect just by remaining at their home, they may immediately move to remove that child from their home, placing them either with relatives or in a foster care facility until the dependency case can proceed further.

If DCF investigators believe the parents may need additional resources to care for their child properly, but the child is not in immediate danger, then they will begin working with the parents to provide them with resources such as parenting education classes to help them amend the situation.

Shelter & Arraignment Hearings

When a child is removed from a home by DCF investigators, a court must hold a hearing for the removal within 24 hours. At this stage, DCF professionals can prevent evidence supporting the removal of the child, and the parents may present evidence contesting claims of abuse or neglect if they so choose.

If the court determines that the DCF's decision to remove the child is supported by the evidence presented, it will appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) to the child, a lawyer who can represent them and their interests. If the court sides with the DCF, it will also trigger a dependency case, which starts with an arraignment hearing.

Once DCF professionals have officially filed a Petition for Dependency with the court, parents must enter a plea at a hearing called an arraignment hearing. Parents have a few options at this juncture:

  • Admit the allegations of abuse or neglect;
  • Accept a case plan put forward by the DCF, but refuse to admit to allegations of abuse or neglect;
  • Deny allegations of abuse or neglect, and ask for an adjudicatory hearing.

An experienced dependency attorney can help you determine the best path forward in your case.

Many parents choose to accept a case plan without admitting to committing abuse or neglect. In this case, the parents must work with the DCF to come up with a case plan that details how they plan to correct their behavior so they can safely house their child again.

Once a case plan is approved, parents must adhere to it. At pre-set intervals - typically within 90 days, six months, and a year of the initial disposition hearing - the court will hold a judicial review to determine whether the parents are cooperating with the case plan.

At any of these reviews, the court can determine that the parents have done enough to reclaim custody of their child, at which point the court will terminate supervision of the parents and return their child to them.

Twelve months after establishing the case plan, the court will hold a Judicial Review/Permanency Hearing. This hearing determines whether the parents should have custody of their child permanently, or if the child should be rehomed either with relatives or in a foster care facility. If the court decides the child is still not safe with the parents and must be rehomed, it will typically terminate their parental rights, allowing the child to be adopted by another party.

At Orshan, Spann & Fernandez-Mesa, our child support and custody lawyers can help you navigate your case. To schedule a consultation with our team, contact us online or via phone at (305) 853-9161.