Dependency Attorneys
in Tallahassee, Florida

In August of 2020, nearly 14,000 child-abuse hotline reports involving more than 16,000 children were investigated by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF). Some 1,040 children were removed from their homes as a result. The good news is that, following the state’s dependency process, 1,016 of those children were eventually returned home.

If your children have been taken by DCF following a report of abuse, abandonment, or neglect, you may be feeling distraught, confused, and even angry. Fortunately, you don’t have to face this difficult situation on your own. With an experienced Florida family law attorney on your side to help you navigate the legal dependency process, you can fight hard to successfully get your children back.

With more than 60 years of combined experience and offices in Tallahassee and Jacksonville, the attorneys at Fournier Law represent parents and legal custodians in Florida who are fighting for the return their children. If your children have been removed from your care due to accusations of abuse or neglect, call our firm today so we can do everything in our power to help.

What Are Dependency Laws in Florida?

Florida dependency laws set forth the civil adjudication of complaints of child abuse, abandonment, and neglect brought against parents and legal custodians by the Florida Department of Children and Families, otherwise known as DCF. DCF investigates reports from mandatory reporters and the Florida Abuse Hotline.  If their investigation reveals there is an immediate threat to the child(ren), a civil action may be filed against the alleged offenders to remove the children from their care.

A dependency action can be filed against parents for injuries, harm or threats of harm to children in the form of physical, mental, or sexual abuse. If a child is born to parents who have been named in an open dependency case, that child may also be subject to removal depending on the circumstances of the case.

A dependency action can also be filed against parents who abandon or neglect their children by failing to take care of the children or provide for their basic needs.  

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How the Process Works

There are four major components of the dependency process. Those components include the following:

A Shelter Hearing

If the DCF investigation reveals evidence that the children have been abused, neglected, or abandoned, they will remove them from the home immediately. Within 24 hours, the court will hold a hearing to determine if the children should remain out of the home or be returned. Parents must be represented by a family law attorney.

If the parents lack the financial resources to hire an attorney, one will be appointed by the courts. The court will also appoint a Guardian ad Litem who will meet with the child(ren) and all those involved to help determine what is in the child(ren)'s best interests throughout the dependency process.

An Arraignment Hearing

If the court decides to remove the children from the home indefinitely, DCF will file a Petition of Dependency. The court will hold an arraignment hearing to review the charges in the Petition and the parents will admit to the allegations, deny them, or consent to a case plan without admitting or denying the allegations — with most parents choosing to consent to a case plan without any admission of guilt.

If the parents deny the allegations, the court will schedule an evidentiary hearing to hear from witnesses and to receive evidence for the Judge to consider before ruling on the matter. If the court finds sufficient evidence to support the allegations, the court will schedule a disposition hearing. If the court does not find sufficient evidence, it will dismiss the case and the children will be returned to the parent(s).

A Case Plan

If a Case Plan is agreed to or Ordered following a Disposition hearing, the parents or other alleged offenders will be required to comply with the case plan and participate in the services the Department and its providers determine are needed to eliminate the identified risks to the children. Generally, the parents have up to one year to complete the plan; however, that time may be shortened or lengthened depending on the unique circumstances of each case.

The Process of Reuniting With Your Children

When the court determines that all risks to the children have been eliminated and that the home environment is safe for their return, the court will establish a reunification process to reunite the children with their parents. The court, however, will direct that the parents/children ccontinue to be monitored for six months following reunification.  During this time, the Department will intervene if new complaints or risks arise.

Work With Skilled Dependency Attorneys in Tallahassee, Florida

The dependency process can be both lengthy and rigorous for parents and children. This is why it is so critical that parents be represented by an experienced family law attorney throughout this legal process. A failure to develop a comprehensive plan to alleviate the risks children face could lead to sheltering them in foster care for an undetermined length of time, or even the complete termination of parental rights. That is not a risk that any parent wants to take with their children, regardless of the circumstances of the case.

Get the Dependency Support You Need in Tallahassee, Florida

At Fournier Law, our attorneys understand that many parents need help to correct a dangerous home environment that could harm their children. We also understand that fighting to keep your child can be one of the toughest battles you will ever face. If you or someone you know is facing a dependency action and live in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Florida, or the Big Bend region in Florida — reach out to our firm today to receive the compassionate, reliable legal representation that you deserve.