Dependency – Frequently Asked Questions
What is dependency?
Dependency is a legal process where the Court intervenes to protect children who are suffering abuse, neglect or abandonment, or may at risk for such suffering.
Who initiates a dependency case?
While “anyone with knowledge” may file a dependency case alleging abuse, in actuality the Florida Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) prosecutes all but a slight fraction of dependency cases brought to court.
Can my children be taken from me?
When can my children be removed from my care?
If the circumstances warrant, upon investigation by a child protection investigator, an action can be brought for immediate removal. This is known as “sheltering” the children. The investigator can immediately remove children, but there has to be a shelter hearing within 24 hours for a court to determine the necessity of shelter.
Will I be able to attend a shelter hearing?
Absolutely. Each parent will be advised of the date and time for the hearing.
Will I be able to tell the judge about the situation?
Yes, you will be able to testify. However, if there is a possibility of criminal charges being brought, your attorney may counsel you to remain silent.
May I have an attorney present?
It is highly recommended that you have an attorney present; preferably one with experience in dependency court.
If my children are sheltered, how do I get them back?
If the Court sustains the shelter, an order will be entered. Likely, DCF subsequently will file a dependency petition against you. In that case, you can agree to a case plan that will have tasks to be completed to lessen the risk of harm to the children. Or you can proceed to a dependency trial. If the Court rules in your favor at the trial, the petition is dismissed. However, if the Court finds the children dependent, you will be ordered to complete a case plan.
Will there be other court hearings?
Yes, there are likely to be at least several other hearings. You will have to attend at least one judicial review hearing, perhaps more than one.
Can my parents appear in my case?
Yes, they can be formally involved, but only as “participants,” not parties. Otherwise, unless they are the temporary caregivers, they may assist as witnesses on your behalf.
What is the difference between a party and a “participant?”
A party is a person or entity that is entitled to notice of hearings, to provide evidence at hearings, and to file motions and other court documents. On the other hand, a participant is limited to notice of upcoming hearings and the right to have their position heard at a hearing. However, a participant may not file motions or other court documents, nor are they provided access to the contents of the court file. Participants also are restricted from serving subpoenas for records on upon witnesses to make them appear.
With all the restrictions, should I have a parent or involved relative listed as a participant?
Having a relative involved as a participant will show the court that relatives are concerned about the welfare of the children. It also allows the attorney for the participant to make known a relative’s position on a matter, which may assist the parent in the long run.
Sounds like the situation may become complex. What should I do?
The best advice is to hire an attorney who is well-versed in dependency matters. T. Charles Shafer tried his first dependency trial in 1989. He was one of five lawyers in the late nineties who were awarded a contract by St. Lucie County to handle all dependency cases of parents who were considered financially eligible. He has represented thousands of clients in dependency court. With over 32 years od dependency court experience, he has the knowledge and the skill to represent you in your dependency case.
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