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What to Expect if You Are Facing a Dependency Lawsuit

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The Department of Child and Family Services can file a suit against you if you or a member of your family has been accused of child abuse or neglect. This type of legal action is called dependency since the person aimed to be protected by the court is a child, or a dependent.

A dependency lawsuit will also simultaneously trigger the department to begin a thorough investigation of the accusations so that they may be able to present evidence against you in court.

Then, the judge will hear all of the evidence presented from both the department and from you or your family and determine if there was actual child abuse and neglect.

The court can also determine a variety of ways to protect the child. For example, the court may decide that continuing involvement by the department might be effective or that removing the child from the home is the only way to ensure their safety.

What is a shelter petition? 

In short, a shelter petition means that the state of Florida after an investigation of child abuse or neglect can immediately come into your home and remove your children before a trial is conducted.

If a shelter petition is not enacted then all parties involved will be required to attend and present evidence at a hearing that will usually occur within 24 hours of the original child abuse allegations being vocalized.

What is a Guardian ad Litem? 

When the case is initiated by the Department, an individual with special training, called a guardian ad litem will be appointed to represent the best interests of your child.

Importantly, this representative is not advocating for the child’s desires, but rather what is actually best for them. For example, if a nine-year-old insists that they cannot live with a parent because they are not allowed to have ice cream, the guardian ad litem will not use the ice cream ban as a reason for that child to remain out of the home.

While that example is hyperbolic, sometimes young people may feel very strongly in one way or another, but their representative may elect to advocate for another option for that minor.

How long can dependency cases last? 

A dependency lawsuit includes several different hearing and is followed by judicial review – where every six months, the court will examine the case. Simply put, dependency actions can go on for years.

At a review hearing, the judge will ensure that the parents are complying with their individualized case plan, examine how the children are doing, and review the performance of the Department.

Let Us Help You Today 

If a dependency action has been brought against you, it is very important that you talk with an attorney as quickly as possible. Discussing your case with an experienced Fort Lauderdale family lawyer can help you decide how best to interact with the Department and how to keep your children in your home. The lawyers and staff at the office of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. are ready to help you through this difficult time. Contact us today for help.



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