The State of Florida may initiate a lawsuit against a parent or the legal custodian or a child based upon allegations of abuse, abandonment or neglect. Such a lawsuit is known as a Dependency lawsuit and is governed by Chapter 39 of the Florida Statutes. A Dependency action is filed by the State of Florida against one or both parents or legal custodians after allegations of abuse, abandonment or neglect have been reported to the Department of Children and Families (also known as DCF) or law enforcement and DCF finds probable cause that a child has been or likely will be abused, abandoned or neglected. Allegations of child abuse may be reported by a friend or neighbor who suspects child abuse or by persons known as “mandatory reporters” such as doctors, therapists, teachers and guidance counselors. Once an abuse allegation has been reported, DCF will assign an investigator from their Child Protective Team to investigate the allegations and make a determination if the child needs to be immediately removed from the home or not.
If the child protective investigator determines there is probable cause that a child has been abused, abandoned or neglected or a child is suffering from or in imminent danger of suffering from injury or illness due to abuse abandonment or neglect a Dependency Shelter Petition will be filed. A Dependency Shelter Petition seeks a court order to “shelter” the child from the parent(s) or legal custodians against whom allegations have been made by removing them from their care and home. The Dependency Shelter Petition will include a recommendation as to whose care and temporary legal custody the children should be placed and DCF’s recommendation as to whether the parents/legal custodians should or should not have contact with the children during the pendency of the case. It will also request the appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem on behalf of the child or children. A Petition for Dependency requests the Court to determine the child or children “dependent” within the meaning and intent of Chapter 39, Florida Statutes. The Department of Children and Families has 21 days to file a Petition for Dependency if the child has been placed in shelter status by a court order or within 7 days after a party files a demand for the early filing of a dependency petition, whichever comes first. From that point, a Dependency case moves very quickly and it is imperative you are well-represented to protect both your parental rights and the best interest of your child or children.
The purpose of a petition seeking the adjudication of a child as a dependent child is the protection of the child and not the punishment of the person creating the condition of dependency. Dependency actions are not criminal in nature but they can have very serious and long-term effect on a parents’ contact and relationship with their children. The outcome of Dependency lawsuits can range from reunification with your child to termination of parental rights. If allegations of abuse, abandonment or neglect have been made against you, whether valid or not, you must take the process seriously and act swiftly to protect your rights as a parent, in the short-term and long-term. The attorneys at Hertz • Sager have vast experience in Dependency Defense and are here to help protect you and your children.