What Does it Mean When My Child has Been Deemed Dependent?

A gavel sits on a wooden surface in front of a line of law books

If involved in a case with the Department of Children and Families there may be many questions and terms that arise. One of the most common questions is the term of dependency, or a dependent child. If your child has been adjudicated as dependent, contact a child custody attorney to discuss your specific case and gather information and counsel on your rights and options in the proceedings.

Florida Statute 984.03 provides: “Child who is found to be dependent” or “dependent child” means a child who… is found by the court: to have been abandoned, abused, or neglected by the child’s parents or other custodians; to have been surrendered to the former Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, the Department of Children and Families, or a licensed child-placing agency for purpose of adoption; to have been voluntarily placed with a licensed child-caring agency, a licensed child-placing agency, an adult relative, the former Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, or the Department of Children and Families, after which placement, under the requirements of this chapter, a case plan has expired and the parent or parents have failed to substantially comply with the requirements of the plan; to have been voluntarily placed with a licensed child-placing agency for the purposes of subsequent adoption and a natural parent or parents signed a consent pursuant to the Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure; to have no parent, legal custodian, or responsible adult relative to provide supervision and care; to be at substantial risk of imminent abuse or neglect by the parent or parents or the custodian.”

Generally, the pertinent factors of this statute to clients are that the court has found evidence of child abuse, neglect or abandonment, the child is at substantial risk of abuse or neglect, or the parents have failed to comply with previously ordered services. Prior to determining a child as dependent, a hearing will be held to adjudicate the child as dependent and in need of state intervention. However, this typically occurs after the initial emergency pick up a child. Before removing a child, the court must have probable cause to order such emergency action. Again, this probable cause must be related to the suspected abuse, neglect, abandoned, or imminent danger of a child, or a parent has failed to adhere to the previously set guidelines to protect the child from abuse, neglect, abandonment, or danger. After an emergency pick up order has been entered, a shelter hearing will be had where the court will determine the placement and dependency of the child. The parents will be given notice of this hearing, and have a right to have counsel represent them during this hearing. This hearing is to be held within 72 hours of the date of removal of the child from the parent’s custody.

At this hearing, your custody attorney will present evidence as to your parental abilities, protection of the child from the suspected abuse, neglect or abandonment, and lack of involvement in these allegations. This hearing is critical to your parental rights and it is imperative to have proper representation during this time. If your child is deemed dependent, a great deal of involvement with the Department of Children and Family Service will be in your future, and your risk losing custody of your child. Therefore, contact an attorney immediately to discuss the options and specific circumstances of your case.

Speaking to an attorney at our Orlando office is free of charge, and we accept calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Contact us at 407-512-0887 or complete an online contact form to get in touch with a member of our team today.

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