At The Marshall Defense Firm, we have helped many clients facing a dependency petition in juvenile court and know that losing custody of a child is a frightening possibility for any parent. With so much at stake, it is important to have someone in your corner who understands what the law requires and what your rights are. Because of our knowledge and years of experience handling these cases, we can advise you on what steps will maximize your chances of either keeping or regaining custody of your child. We will fight vigorously and do everything we can to ensure that you and your family are protected.
What is a dependency petition?
A dependency petition is a written request to the court to find that a child is dependent on the state for protection because he or she has been abused or neglected and there is no parent or guardian able and willing to provide adequate care for the child. It can be filed by anyone (including a relative) but is typically initiated by Child Protective Services (CPS) in the course of a CPS investigation. The petition asks that the State be allowed to assume temporary legal custody of the child.
CPS can file a dependency petition while the child is still in your home, but if they determine there is a risk of serious harm, your child may be removed from the home immediately. If CPS wishes for the child to remain out of the home for more than 72 hours and the parent or legal guardian does not agree to this, CPS must then submit a dependency petition to the court.
What type of allegation can trigger a dependency petition?
Any allegations of physical or sexual abuse against a child may trigger dependency proceedings; even spanking that leaves bruises can do it. There are some medical events or injuries that often result in a CPS investigation, such as fractures or brain injury in a baby. An injury that was accidental or caused by someone other than the parents can lead to a dependency petition. Pediatricians and other doctors receive training in identifying potential instances of child abuse and are mandated to report whenever they suspect a child has been abused.
If there is medical evidence of injury, the State may present a physician’s opinion that the particulars of the injury show it resulted from abuse. A physician may have diagnosed the injury as “non-accidental.” Often the prosecution’s physician is certified in “child abuse medicine” and works on a child abuse medical team at a children’s hospital. In this situation, we look for a medical expert to testify on your behalf. It is often a difficult search because many physicians refuse to testify for anyone accused of child abuse. However, we have strong connections around the country and good relationships with many outstanding physicians who share our desire that the accused get a fair shake.
Will there be a trial?
If you wish to challenge the allegations in the dependency petition, you have the right to a trial with the judge, also known as a “fact-finding” hearing. The law requires that the trial be scheduled within 75 days after the child has been placed out of the home, but the court has the authority to schedule beyond that for good cause and, in reality, trials are often delayed. In order for a child to be found “dependent,” the State must prove the facts alleged in the dependency petition by a “preponderance of the evidence,” which is another way of saying more likely than not. This is a much lower standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is the level of proof required in a criminal trial.
Parents often wish to settle their cases to avoid the inherent risk of a trial. This means coming to an agreement with CPS on why the child is “dependent,” where the child will live, and any conditions you must meet to keep or regain custody. We will work closely with you to determine the best strategy based on the facts and circumstances of the case and your goals.
If a child is found “dependent” after a trial, the court holds a hearing to determine the child’s placement and the appropriate services to be provided to the family so that the child can be safely returned home. This is followed by periodic review hearings where the court will consider whether the parent has complied with the services, whether they are making progress towards correcting the risk factors that led to the dependency petition, and also how the child is doing. The court will continually revisit whether there is a need for continuing out-of-home care, as the goal is always to reunite child and parents as long as it is safe to do so.
Do you really need to hire an attorney?
You should take any accusations against you seriously. Innocent parents often feel that a lawyer isn’t necessary because they have nothing to hide. They assume that CPS will see they have done nothing wrong. Unfortunately, our experience handling these matters tells us it is dangerous not to get the best legal representation you can.
Unless you are wealthy, you have the right to a court-appointed attorney in a dependency proceeding. Many dedicated and capable lawyers serve as court-appointed attorneys, but the reality is that you simply don’t know whom you’ll get. When you hire a private lawyer, you choose your lawyer. With a court-appointed attorney, someone will choose for you. You might be assigned a first-rate lawyer—and you might not.
Also, even the best court-appointed attorneys often have heavy caseloads. That makes it hard for them to devote much time to any one case. A private lawyer often has the time to investigate and prepare your case much more thoroughly.
If you decide to hire a private lawyer, you should choose one carefully. Many private lawyers don’t have the right experience to do a good job in cases involving child abuse, and even some of them do not devote adequate time to their cases. At The Marshall Defense Firm, we take the time needed to develop the strongest defense. Our focus is on defending you against the allegations of abuse or neglect and reuniting you with your child as quickly as possible.
What it’s Like to Have The Marshall Defense Firm in Your Corner
Respect and compassion are the foundation of our work. We take time to get to know you and your case. It’s where our fierce advocacy for you begins.
Then there’s our experience. For decades we have represented parents accused of abusing their children. From that and our on-going study of the law, medicine, and psychology involved in these investigations, we have exceptional skill.
And we pool that skill. We work as a team. We know that no one lawyer, no matter how brilliant, will have all the good ideas for your case.
Our final ingredient is relentless investigation and preparation. When we defend you, we are ready to do it well.