Child Dependency Mediation With DCF: Unique Characteristics
By Orlando Child Dependency Mediation Lawyer Eduardo J. Mejias
Practicing Exclusively Family Law Since 2011
DCF Child Dependency Mediations Have Four Unique Characteristics
As with other issues that family lawyers work on, dependency cases involve at least one mediation. However, a child dependency mediation with DCF differ in many ways from the ones for a divorce or a paternity dispute. See Divorce Mediations. Those differences are reflected in the way that I prepare my dependency clients case for them. DCF Dependency mediation differs from others in these four ways:
They Have a One-Hour Time Limit
The DCF dependency mediator will only give the parties one hour to reach a settlement. This time limit puts a premium on putting an offer on the table at the start of this process. Conversely, a mediation in other family law cases either (a) lasts up to three hours, conducted by the county mediation office or (b) can go on all day if it is with a private mediator.
Attorneys Negotiate Around the Proposed Safety Plan
At the outset, the DCF attorney will offer a written “case plan” (sometimes referred to as a “safety plan”) for the offending parent to consent to. Then, the attorney for the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) will either seek clarity to some of the aspect of the proposed case plan, or simply agree to it wholesale. It is then up to the attorney for the offending parent to demand modifications to the case plan that will make it more palatable for the client.
They Have Limited Room for Negotiation
The short time allotted for the DCF child dependency mediation over the safety plan restricts the amount of compromise that can be extracted from DCF. Even the most skilled attorney or negotiator cannot work a lot of magic within such a limited window of time. To make matters worse, DCF, unlike the typical party to a divorce or paternity case, has no incentive to “get things over with.” On the contrary, the longer that it can prolong the time before it is forced to devote its resources to a trial, the more it pushes the offending parent to take as many revenue-generating drug screening evaluations, parenting classes, and counseling sessions as they can.
Not only does the parent pay more money to the state by taking part in these programs, the increased participation by all parents sends a signal to Tallahassee that such programs need more taxpayer funding. As with all other state agencies, the DCF and GAL employees work primarily to justify the receipt of their own paychecks. The best interests of the children take a back seat to institutional self-promotion.
For the Most Part, They Are an “All or Nothing” Proposition
Other than minor concessions, DCF will not back off from their proposed case plan. As an offending parent, you either consent to the substance of the case plan (and waive your right to a trial), or you don’t.
However, by not consenting to the plan the offending parent can still voluntarily complete the case plan and receive a trial date. At the trial, the parent can show his or her substantial compliance with the case plan, while not forfeiting the ability to obtain a “not dependent” finding (the equivalent of a “not guilty” finding).
On the other hand, by consenting to a case plan, the child is immediately deemed dependent, and DCF can arbitrarily extend the case plan requirements with impunity. In fact, I have witnessed DCF “move the goalposts” and delay reunification for several months, or even years, once it has obtained the parent’s consent. For these reasons, I rarely advise my dependency clients to consent to a case plan at the mediation. When should a parent consent? A parent should only consent to the safety plan at the DCF mediation when the factual strength of the petition for dependency is overwhelming, and the proposed case plan is unusually generous. However, the confluence of these two factors seldom occurs.
How to Get Help
If you have questions about your dependency case, I encourage you to call AAA Family Law at (407) 260-6001, and schedule an initial child dependency lawyer consultation by phone or at our Altamonte Springs office. You will have an opportunity to explain your case and that will be followed by my plan of action to try to achieve your objectives. Then I will quote you a fixed attorney retainer fee before you make any payments or sign a contract, not an hourly rate whose total cost is unpredictable.
Our attorney retention fees for child dependency cases with the Florida Department of Children and Families range from $3,600 to $6,000 depending on the complexity of the case. Read Our Retainer Fee Policies for more information on this subject.
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