This page specifically discusses Juvenile Court involving custody, parentage, DCS and CASA cases, for cases involving a juvenile's personal criminal matters, please visit the Juvenile Page.
Most cases start with a referral. This referral gets a DCS case worker involved. The referral can come from just about anyone, a nurse at the hospital, a teacher, a friend, neighbors, church group, a spouse, anyone. Referrals can be made based on many different reasons, the most common being; drugs in the house, parents/caretakers using drugs, excessive alcohol use, improper care of the child, homelessness, truancy, violence in the home, sexual abuse and so on. If the case worker sees the need to remove the child or children from the home, the case then begins its way through the court system.
Caseworkers will file any number of papers with the courts. If there is a close relative who can take custody of the children, typically the case worker will do their best to help get the child(ren) to that family member. However, sometimes, there is not a family member that is able to take the child(ren), in these cases the state has to take custody. All of these papers are typically filed with the court as an Ex Parte Order.
An Ex Parte Order is a special type of Order that the Judge signs, without giving the other party the chance to speak. The Judge signs an Order like this when something needs to be done immediately. In a DCS case, typically the Judge will sign an Order because he or she feels that a child's life is in danger. When an Ex Parte Order is signed, the Judge has to have a hearing very soon after, in order to give the party that couldn't speak, a chance to tell their side.
DCS cases are done in this way to protect the child. The idea is that it is safer to remove the child now, sort everything out and get all the problems addressed after the child is safe, rather than address all the problems now, and the child potentially be harmed in the waiting period.
Having your child(ren) taken away from you can be scary and extremely stressful. You have the ability to hire an attorney to represent you in a DCS case or in a case where a private petition has been filed. If you do not hire an attorney, you may be able to receive an appointed attorney. If you would like an attorney, the court may choose to appoint you an attorney if you cannot afford to hire an attorney on your own. You also have the right to represent yourself and not use an attorney. You may hear the term "pro se". Pro se is the term the court uses to indicate on documents that you are representing yourself.
Court proceedings follow the same basic structure for all DCS cases. However your case may vary based on your needs, your child's needs and your attorney's guidance.
Typically a case will go through two hearings; a Preliminary Hearing and an Adjudicatory Hearing.
If you have hired your own counsel or have decided to represent yourself, you may or may not be able to have a preliminary hearing, and possibly even an adjudicatory hearing on your first court date. If you are waiting to see if you qualify and are appointed an attorney, it is likely that you will be given a new court date so that you and your attorney may have proper time to speak and discuss your case.
A Preliminary Hearing is a hearing in front of the Judge where the state has to explain why they removed the children. The state has to prove that there was probable cause. Probable cause is a very low standard. Essentially all the state has to prove is that it was reasonable to believe there was a problem that affected the children. The state does not have to PROVE that any allegations are true at this point. Your attorney may speak with you about waiving your preliminary hearing. This is a common practice in a dependency and neglect DCS case. Preliminary hearings have such a low burden of proof, the state often wins the hearing.
If you waive your preliminary hearing, the Judge will likely set your next court date to hold an Adjudicatory Hearing.
An Adjudicatory Hearing is another hearing in front of the Judge. At this hearing the state has to prove their case by clear and convincing evidence. The state has to follow the rules of evidence, they can present witnesses, the case workers can testify and you can state your case as well. At the end of the hearing the Judge will make a ruling. If he rules against the state, then the children will be returned to the parents. If he rules in favor of the state, he will conduct a Disposition. Often the Disposition will be held at the conclusion of the Adjudication and not at a separate hearing.
If you choose to appeal the ruling of your adjudicatory hearing, you must do so within TEN (10) days after the Order has been signed. It is important to keep in touch with your attorney so that you know when the Order was officially signed, they are not always signed the same day as Court.
Disposition is a fancy word that essentially means that the Judge is deciding who has custody of the children. At the disposition, the Judge typically has three options;
(1) he can give the child(ren) back to the parents together as a couple or choose one individually. The Judge can rule in favor of the state, but find that the parents have remedied the problem, in which case the children are returned to the parents.
(2) he can give custody to the state; OR
(3) if someone else has filed an Intervening Petition, the Judge can choose to give custody of the child(ren) to the person that filed.
After the Adjudication and Disposition, its time to "work the plan". At some point in time your case worker will set up a FTM -Family Team Meeting. At this meeting the case worker will discuss with both parents, and any other parties involved, what issues caused the child(ren) to be removed. Together, a PPP -Permanent Parenting Plan will be created. The PPP is the guideline used to return the children.
Once there is a PPP you can begin working on getting your children back. There are two ways to approach a PPP.
1) Together -both parents are married or a couple, and intend to stay married or working as a couple.
2) Individually -both parents agree it is better for themselves and their children, to no longer be involved in spousal relationship with the other parent. If you are married, this means divorce.
If you choose to approach a PPP together, both parents must complete all steps of their PPP in order to petition to get their children back.
If you choose to approach a PPP individually, the parent that completes their PPP first, will be given the opportunity to petition for the return of their children. In these cases, the restrictions on the parent that has not completed their PPP will remain in effect until their PPP is completed and they file their own petition.
YOU DO NOT NEED TO WAIT UNTIL ADJUDICATION AND DISPOSITION TO BEGIN WORKING YOUR PPP.
Once you have a PPP and have either waived or have had both of your hearings, phase 1 ends. Phase 2 is the review phase, the Judge will likely schedule a Status or Review date three to four months away. At these Court dates the Judge wants to see what progress you've made on your plan and wants to know how the children are doing. Typically a Court wants to see both parents drug free, with stable housing, a stable job, and reliable transportation, often there are additional requirements such as counseling. Once the PPP is completed, DCS will often recommend a THP -Trial Home Placement. These placements are often 60-90 days in length, the child(ren) return to the physical custody of the parent or parents. If the THP goes well, the children are kept with the parent or parents and the case ends.
If there are issues during the THP, new requirements may be added to your PPP or simply a longer waiting period may be added. If DCS sees that no progress is being made on your PPP, too much time has lapsed since the children were removed they may choose to initiate a TPR -Termination of Parental Rights.
Phase 2 ends when the child is permanently returned to the parent or parents, or when the state initiates TPR Proceedings.
TPR proceedings start with serving the parents. The parents will receive notice that the state is attempting to terminate rights. This should not be a surprise. If you are communicating with your caseworker and your attorney, you should not be blindsided by a TPR suit. You can choose to voluntarily surrender your rights. This is essentially a set of documents which allows you to say that you are no longer the child's parent. You do not have to voluntarily surrender. Typically a TPR will have two Court dates. First you will have a date where the Judge asks about whether or not you've hired an attorney, or whether you will be asking for an attorney to be appointed. This will also be your opportunity to surrender your rights if you choose to. If not, the Judge will set a date for trial.
On your trial date, your attorney will argue your case, then the Judge will issue a ruling. If the Judge rules for the state, you will loose all parental rights to your child(ren). If the Judge rules against the state, you will retain your rights as a parent.
If you choose to appeal the ruling of your TPR proceedings, you must do so within THIRTY (30) days after the Order has been signed. It is important to keep in touch with your attorney so that you know when the Order was officially signed, they are not always signed the same day as Court.
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