Of the many reasons Florida parents can end up in court, juvenile dependency is one of the most dreaded. According to the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel First District, Florida, a dependency action often follows allegations of the abuse, neglect or abandonment of a child.
The first step involves the Department of Children and Families investigating any reported allegations. These often come in through the Florida Abuse Hotline. If the DCF believes the child is in danger, then they may remove the child from your custody, if you are the current guardian. Within 24 hours of removal, a shelter hearing decides whether or not the child may continue to live with you. If DCF decides the child should not return home, it may file a Petition for Dependency only, triggering a court case.
An arraignment hearing follows, where you have the chance to enter a plea regarding the allegations. You may choose any of the following:
- Consent: You agree to participate in the case, but neither admit to nor deny the allegations.
- Deny: You do not agree to the allegations and request a mediation or case plan.
- Admit: You admit to the allegations made in the petition.
When parents admit or consent to the allegations, authorities may work with you to develop a case plan. This helps you to resolve any outstanding issues. If you deny the allegations, then they move on to the adjudicatory hearing where witnesses can testify to confirm or deny allegations made. There is no jury, so the judge makes a decision.
If proven to be false, the case is dismissed. If the judge decides the allegations are true, a disposition hearing is next. Here, the Disposition Hearing Court reviews the case plan. It also determines who the child will live with while you resolve issues related to the allegations. Florida law usually gives parents a year to do so.
Judicial reviews occur every six months to review placement of the children involved and check the progress you have made. Once you make full progress with the case plan, judges may then reunite the family. Note that in some cases, abuse or neglect may be so serious that the DCF files for a termination of your parental rights.
This article provides information on the juvenile dependency process in Florida. It should neither be misconstrued as or used in place of legal advice.