What are Your Rights as a Parent Facing a Dependency Charge?
A dependency charge is a serious charge, one that you need to defend against.
The charges will include allegations that you have abused, abandoned or neglected your child or children. Often, such charges may come as a surprise to you and you may not be prepared to handle the situation. Here are a few parental rights you need to know if a dependency charge is filed against you:
Right to an Attorney: If you are facing dependency charges, you are entitled an attorney to defend yourself. You can hire your own attorney or if you are unable to afford an attorney, the Court will appoint an attorney who can help you fight the charges against you. You must also present yourself in a Court within two days of the charges being brought and your child being separated from you.
Details of Probable Cause: In almost all cases, a dependency charge is brought either by the other parent of the child or by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). The party bringing the charge against you is obligated to prove probable cause and provide all the available and required details to you and to the Court hearing your case. They should also be able to furnish details of continuing probable cause to keep you separated from your child.
Right to Input in a Case Plan: If DCF is the party bringing a case against you, they may offer a case plan. The case plan is created by DCF, but you have the right to give input. You also have the right to an attorney with you to help assist in meeting with DCF to create the case plan. You have the right to have the case plan in a language that you understand. The case plan will also state the goal, whether it is reunifying you with your child or children, adoption, or placement with another adult or a group home.
Right to Trial or Plea Agreement: If you enter into a plea agreement, you will be informed that you have a right to a trial, to compel the attendance of witnesses, cross examine witnesses and require DCF (or the party bringing the charges) to prove the allegations in the petition by clear and convincing evidence. The Court may require the parties to attend mediation. If you select to go to trial, the Judge will determine if the moving party (DCF or otherwise) has proven if you are guilty of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. In these types of cases, there is no jury.
Right to Appeal: If you lose the dependency case and the Court decides to take your child away, you have a right to appeal the decision in a higher Court and to request the Court to review the judgment. If you choose to appeal, you must do so within 30 days.