A dependency case is a lawsuit filed by the State of Florida after someone reports abuse, neglect, or abandonment of a child to the Department of Children and Families (DCF), a law enforcement agency, or other legal entity with jurisdiction.

Reported Abuse, Neglect, and Abandonment

Once the incident is reported, a DCF investigator determines whether or not a child should be removed from a household for their own protection and placed with a relative or in a foster home.

While these well-intended laws are in place for the protection of children, in some cases erroneous or false reports can lead to innocent families being separated and subjected to a lengthy court process. There are several reasons why DCF could take action on a false report:

  • A child may have suffered an accidental injury, but a neighbor or teacher suspects abuse.
  • An estranged or divorced parent may accuse the other parent of neglect.
  • Allegations of criminal behavior (such as drug possession) against a parent.

After a child is removed, a shelter hearing takes place within 24 hours to determine if there is probable cause to keep them separated from their parents (FL Statute 39.395). All too often, it is the parents who bear the burden of proof when answering allegations in these proceedings. This is a traumatic experience for families, and parents are often unaware of their parental rights or how they should best approach the proceedings. Without knowledgeable and experienced legal representation by an attorney familiar with Florida dependency law, parents can quickly find themselves lost in a sea of competing legal interests (state attorneys, guardian ad litems, child psychologists, DCF investigators, and so on).

Speed is critical in dependency cases.

Missteps early in the process can result in prolonged court battles over custody. The attorneys at Mulligan and Associates can provide the knowledge, experience, and support parents need to assert their parental rights and keep their families together. With services in Hernando, Citrus, and Sumter County, we’re committed to meeting the legal needs of residents throughout the Nature Coast of Florida. Contact us today for an initial consultation.

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