DCF Dependency Cases Require a Good Family Lawyer, Patience and Persistence
By Family Law Attorney Eduardo J. Mejias
Practicing Exclusively Florida Family Law Since 2011
To protect the privacy of those involved, aliases have been used.
Challenges to Our Notion of Justice
I have mentioned in other pages of this website how DCF dependency cases challenge many of our notions of justice, such as the presumption of innocence, due process and the right to a speedy trial. One of my clients in a DCF dependency case endured these challenges. But with patience, persistence and my help as his family lawyer, he was reunited with his son.
Unmarried Parents Had An Informal Arrangement for Child Time Sharing and Support
Jimmy had been enjoying fairly frequent, yet informal time-sharing with his infant son Benjamin, who lived primarily with his mother Nikki. Both Jimmy and Nikki were young, first-time parents. Their romantic relationship fell apart after Nikki became pregnant. But Jimmy still attended to his former girlfriend during her pregnancy and spent substantial time with his son Benjamin after he was born.
About three months after the birth of his son, Jimmy decided to move back to his home state of Texas. He and Nikki agreed that he would visit his son about once per month and that he would send her child support every other week. However, he was never officially recognized as having the paternity of his child in a family law court. Therefore, Jimmy had not actually acquired any legally enforceable rights to for time sharing custody of his son.
Nikki Faces Drug-Related Charges and DCF Places the Child With His Maternal Grandmother
Unfortunately, Nikki found herself facing drug-related charges shortly after Jimmy relocated to Texas. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) intervened immediately and placed young Benjamin in the custody of Nikki’s mother, Karen. Nikki, at the advice of the DCF regional counsel, consented to a case plan and was awarded weekly visitation with her son at the maternal grandmother’s home.
With No Legally Recognized Paternity, Jimmy Experienced Many Delays Getting Reunited With His Son
Since Jimmy's paternity rights had not been legally established, he did not even become aware of what was happening until several weeks after his son was placed with his grandmother Karen.
Then Jimmy traveled back to Florida to attend the next judicial review hearing. There, the dependency judge ordered him to take a DNA test to confirm his paternity of Benjamin, even though Nikki conceded that he was the father. Thus, until a positive test result was filed with the dependency court, Jimmy could not even see his son. Frustrated with these delays, he hired me as his DCF family lawyer.
After I helped Jimmy schedule a DNA test, my firm filed the positive results with the Clerk of the Court and the judge recognized him as the father and allowed him to participate in the proceedings. Meanwhile, Nikki had been released from jail on a bond, but had not even begun performing her agreed-to case plan tasks.
Still, Jimmy, who had not been accused of any wrongdoing, faced yet another hurdle. A provision in Chapter 39 of the Florida Statutes, which governs dependency actions, mandates that children subject to dependency proceedings be placed with “non-offending” parents; but only after a “home study” and a background check were completed. The background check was done fairly quickly, But it took an inordinate amount of paperwork to coordinate the home study of his residence. Several weeks passed, and my client grew more frustrated.
After I applied pressure to DCF to finalize my client’s home study, they completed it and found Jimmy’s home to be perfectly safe for little Benjamin. Amazingly though, another hearing had to be scheduled for the dependency judge to actually grant the reunification. Even more surprisingly, the mother’s attorney objected to the reunification of father and son even though her own client had only completed a fraction of her case plan at that point.
Patience, Persistence and Legal Representation Reunites Father and Son
At the reunification hearing in December 2017, I cited Chapter 39, which compelled Benjamin’s reunification with his father. Despite some vague and unsupported arguments to the contrary from Nikki’s attorney, the dependency judge granted our sought-after reunification. Jimmy could now enjoy Christmas with his son.
This experience offers non-offending parents in dependency cases two important lessons: (a) even though you may have done nothing wrong, you will likely face obstacles to obtaining custody of your child and (b) despite these hurdles, with a good family lawyer, patience and persistence, you will ultimately be reunited.
How to Get Help
If you are a parent involved in a dependency case, I urge you to call AAA Family Law at (407) 260-6001 and schedule a consultation. At the consultation: (1) I will listen to your explanation or your case, present you with a legal action plan to protect your legal rights and (3) inform you of the total flat or fixed lawyer retainer fees charged by AAA Family Law before signing any contract or making any payment..
The attorney retainer fees for cases involving the Department of Children and Families range between $3,600 and $6,000, depending with their level of complexity. See Family Lawyer Retainer Fees for more information on retainer fees. Click on Contact Us for a map and directions to the AAA Family Law office.