Dependency And Neglect
A dependency case is a lawsuit initiated by the state of Florida to investigate alleged child abuse, child neglect or child abandonment by a parent or guardian. Typically, a dependency case is initiated by someone reporting abuse, abandonment or neglect to the Department of Children and Families (DCF), an abuse hotline or a law enforcement agency or court.
If a DCF investigator concludes that there is probable cause to believe that a child is in danger if the child remains in the home or with a parent, a shelter petition is filed. This petition asks the court to allow the state to remove or keep the child away from the parent. Ultimately, the state will seek to “rehabilitate” the parent and return the child or it may seek to terminate the parent’s rights.
The state will provide an attorney at no cost in dependency cases to parents whose income does not exceed a certain threshold, but these lawyers typically juggle an oversized caseload and often cannot provide the personal attention these cases require.
The Importance Of Experienced Legal Representation
The court must have a shelter hearing on a petition within 24 hours after it is filed. Too often, parents who are reeling from the shock of DCF action fail to enlist the services of a knowledgeable family law attorney for a shelter hearing. Given time to prepare for a shelter hearing, a lawyer who is familiar with parental rights in Florida often can significantly impact the outcome.
Child Advocate (Guardian ad litem)
The lawyers at McLean & Mitchell are sensitive to the needs of parents who are going through this difficult situation. In our experience, dependency cases move so rapidly and involve so many “players” — attorneys for the parents, the state’s attorney, a child advocate, a guardian ad litem, a guardian ad litem attorney and other professionals such as child psychologists, therapists, etc. — that parents find themselves in a hole, so to speak, before they even call an attorney.
If you face dependency proceedings, contact us as soon as possible. There are important hurdles that must be cleared early. Having an experienced family law attorney to help you navigate this process can mean the difference between getting your children back and losing them to the state.