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Appeal of Florida DCF Child Dependency Ruling
By Orlando Family Lawyer Eduardo J. Mejias
Practicing Exclusively Family Law Since 2011
State DCF Child Dependency Appeals and Family Law Appeals
AAA Family Law represents clients in both family law (divorces, paternity cases, alimony, child support, etc) and state DCF child dependency. On this page I cover the issues faced by a lawyer appealing a child dependency rulings from a Florida child dependency court to a District Court of Appeals.
Appellate Procedures Apply to Both Family Law and Child Dependency Appeals
First, one must understand that the basic rules of appellate procedure apply to both family law and child dependency cases. For example: a parent who wishes to appeal an adverse dependency court ruling must also file a notice of appeal within thirty days of the signed order and submit an initial brief within 70 days of the filing of this notice.
Likewise, an answer brief must be submitted in response to the notice no later than 20 days after the filing of the initial brief, and the appellant parent files a final reply brief within 20 days after that. All of the same filing fees apply, and eventually, the record of the proceedings from the dependency court are transferred (for another fee) to the appellate court, who takes an indeterminate amount of time to either affirm or reverse the lower court’s ruling.
How Appeals of Child Dependency Cases Differ from Those of Family Law
One procedural aspect differentiates appeals of dependency rulings: More than one party can serve as both appellants and appellees. For example, both the mother and father may appeal a dependency ruling separately, and the DCF and Guardian Ad Litem attorneys may also file separate answer briefs. In short, having more parties to the dependency court proceeding can lead to more participants in the appeal. Naturally, this will likely prolong the appellate process.
Appellate courts review a dependency court’s determination that a child is dependent on the state if there is an “abuse of discretion” by the trial judge. This is substantially just what they do with findings of fact in family courts; they give deference to the dependency court's decision. However, the dependency court does not receive quite as much deference as the findings of fact in family law. First, DCF must have proven its allegations at the trial with a “preponderance of the evidence”. Second, and even more importantly, the trial court’s actual finding of dependency must be supported by “substantial, competent evidence.”
This level of review implies that the trial court must have “hung its hat” on more than just one piece of evidence or testimony. “Substantial” indicates that the evidence and testimony must have been cumulative and at least somewhat convincing. Third, the dependency court must actually include in its judgment or order the basic facts supporting its decisions. In other words, a bare statement such as “the father neglected his son” does not suffice. Thus, insufficient findings of fact in the ruling is an error that could justify an appeal. Essentially, compared to appeals of factual rulings in family courts, the appellate courts have raised the bar somewhat on what is required of dependency courts to support their findings of state child dependency.
For additional information on family law appeals please read Family Law Appeals.
How We Can Be of Service
If you have any questions about appealing a dependency ruling, I encourage you to call AAA Family Law at (407) 260-6001 and schedule a free consultation with me.
At the consultation I will review your child dependency case and ask what portion of the dependency court ruling you are interested in appealing. I may decide then whether your cases is one that is likely to be accepted by the District Court of Appeals. But I may have to get back to you later after doing some research on the subject.
If your case has a potential succeed on appeal, I will assess your probability of success. Then, if you decide to file the appeal, I will outline the legal plan of action to protect your interests. Then I will quote you a flat or fixed attorney retention fee before you sign any contract or make any payments.
Our attorney retainer fees to appeal final orders range between $3,600 and $6,000, depending on complex is the case. For non-final orders they are between $2,400 and $4,800. Please read Family Lawyer Retainer Fees for full information on the costs of our representation services.
Please read the Articles section for more information on Family Law topics
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AAA Family Law
283 Cranes Roost Blvd., Suite 111
Altamonte Springs, Florida 32701
AAA Family Law is located in Altamonte Springs and serves clients throughout the Orlando Metro Area including, but not limited to, the following cities and unincorporated areas, by county: Orange County: Apopka, Bay Lake, Maitland, Ocoee, Orlando, Union Park, Winter Garden, and Winter Park; Seminole County: Altamonte Springs, Casselberry, Lake Mary, Longwood, Oviedo, Sanford, and Winter Springs; Volusia County: Daytona Beach, DeBary, DeLand, Deltona, and Orange City; Lake County: Clermont, Leesburg, and Mount Dora; Osceola County: Buena Ventura Lakes, Celebration, and Kissimmee; Orange, Lake, Osceola, and Polk Counties: Four Corners; Orange and Seminole Counties: Goldenrod.