Why Non-Offending Parents Must Act Quickly When Children are Taken by the State
There is perhaps nothing scarier for a parent than discovering that your child has been removed from the home and placed into the care and custody of the State of Florida. Often, this occurs when parents are separated or divorced, and the child is with the other parent at the time of removal. Consider this example: You are separated and your ex-partner has the children for the weekend. You receive a phone call from a Child Protective Services worker late in the evening on Saturday, explaining that your children have been taken into care. You are then served with notice to appear at a court hearing in a couple days. If this happens to you, it is time to take immediate and decisive actions to protect your children now. You need to call an aggressive and experienced family law attorney before it is too late.
What is a Juvenile Abuse and Neglect Case?
Anytime there is good cause to believe a minor child has been abused or neglected, the state has a right to take the child into protective custody temporarily in order to determine if there are grounds to make that child a ward of the court. If the court determines that there is a good reason to do so, then custody and guardianship of the child will be awarded to the Department of Children and Families, who will place the child into foster care until parents meet the goals and requirements to regain custody of the children. This can be a lengthy process, and sadly, many parents are never able to get their children home.
What is a Non-Offending Parent?
If you are a parent who has done nothing wrong, then you are likely a non-offending parent. This means perhaps the children were with the other parent at the time that something bad happened. Maybe the other parent was arrested with drugs while caring for the kids. Or, perhaps the other parent physically assaulted the children. Whatever the case may be, if you are innocent and had nothing to do with the abuse or neglect, then the law is clear that you are presumed fit and capable of caring for your children. But it is not always so easy in practice. Over-zealous caseworkers and overworked judges can easily overlook facts and force a non-offending parent to jump through countless unnecessary hoops, undergo services and counseling, and even spend months fighting to regain custody of their children.
What can an Attorney do?
The best chance of getting your kids home fast is to attend the Shelter Care Hearing. Under Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure, Rule 8.305(a), when a child is removed from a parent, the state must file for a shelter care hearing within 24 hours. However, this can be continued or delayed for no more than 72 hours.
At this hearing, the local prosecutor’s office, aided by a state investigator, will call witnesses, such as police, and will present other evidence to the judge with the goal of placing the child into the custody of the state. This is perhaps the most critical stage of the proceeding for several reasons.
- Less Evidence. At this early stage, much of the potentially negative evidence the state may later acquire has not yet been uncovered. Therefore, the state’s case may be fairly weak.
- Short Notice. Even though a parent may have very short notice, the same is true for the judge and prosecutor. They will often be working with nothing more than a police report, and the police officer may not even show up. But if the parent shows up without an attorney, there is a good chance of the judge finding good cause for custody and setting the matter for the next step. The problem is, the next step can be up to 30 days away. That is an entire month you would be without your child.
- A Fit Parent can Go Home With Children. If you are a true non-offending parent with no substantial criminal history, you are not a sex offender, and you have no significant substance abuse issues, you have a high likelihood of going home with your child. With an attorney at your side, you can argue that you are a non-offending parent. Without the benefit of time to investigate, the state is at a disadvantage if they have nothing to argue to the contrary.
Getting Help Immediately
Time is of the essence if your child is in temporary custody of the State. Call the dedicated team at the Sejour-Gustave Law Firm, PLLC right away. The sooner we are on the job, the sooner we can prepare for the initial hearing and fight for the return of your children.