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Florida Family Law: Explaining Child Dependency Proceedings

child support agreement
child support agreement

Child dependency proceedings in Florida are legal processes that aim to ensure the safety and well-being of children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned. In this blog post, we will provide an overview of child dependency proceedings in Florida, including the reasons for initiation, the steps involved, and the key parties involved in the process.


Understanding Child Dependency Proceedings in Florida


Why Proceedings Begin

Child dependency proceedings may be initiated when there are allegations or concerns regarding:

Abuse: Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse inflicted upon a child by a parent, guardian, or caregiver.

Neglect: Failure to provide adequate care, supervision, or basic necessities for a child, such as food, shelter, clothing, or medical attention.

Abandonment: Desertion of a child by a parent or guardian without adequate provision for their care.

Substance abuse: A parent or caregiver’s substance abuse issues that significantly impact their ability to care for the child.

Domestic violence: Exposure of the child to domestic violence or an unsafe environment due to ongoing violence within the household.

The Initial Steps

The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) springs into action upon receiving reports of the above issues, conducting investigations to assess the child’s situation.

Emergency Actions and Hearings

If a child is in immediate danger, the court can remove them from their home for protection. A shelter hearing follows within 24 hours to decide if this custody status should continue or if the child can return home while the case is resolved.

Determining the Facts: Adjudicatory Hearing

The next step is the adjudicatory hearing, also known as the fact-finding hearing. During this hearing, evidence is presented to determine whether the child has been abused, neglected, or abandoned. The court evaluates the evidence and determines whether the allegations are substantiated. 

What Happens Next: Disposition Hearing

After considering their best interests, the court decides on the best arrangement for the child’s care, which could mean placement with relatives, foster care, or another safe environment. This stage may also introduce services like counseling or parenting classes to address underlying issues.

Planning for the Future: Case Plan and Management

A detailed plan is set up outlining steps for the parents or caregivers to regain custody, involving therapy, substance abuse treatment, or achieving stable living conditions, overseen by a case manager.

Long-Term Solutions: Permanency Planning and Review

The court reviews the case plan’s progress. It explores permanent living arrangements for the child, aiming for a stable, nurturing environment, which may include returning to their parents, adoption, or living with other relatives.

Legal Representation and Key Parties

Children and their parents or caregivers have the right to legal representation. The child may have a guardian ad litem: an attorney advocating for their best interests. The DCF and case managers also play crucial roles, providing the court with necessary assessments and recommendations.

Recent Legislative Updates

The Florida Legislature has recently passed House Bill 185, introducing significant updates to the laws regarding dependent children. Passed on January 7th, 2024, this bill emphasizes the rights and protections for children in dependency proceedings, aiming to improve their welfare and the legal process involved. Specific details and implications of this bill are still unfolding as it progresses through legislative channels​​. 

Given the evolving nature of these legal updates, consulting with legal professionals who are knowledgeable about the latest developments in Florida’s child dependency laws is not just advisable—it’s a practical necessity. This ensures that all actions taken are in the best interest of the child, aligned with the most current legal standards


Need personalized legal advice and representation in child dependency cases in Florida?  Contact the Dewitt Law Firm!