If you have reached the point of contesting a juvenile dependency case in court, your family has already been through some extreme experiences. Usually these types of cases manifest because there have been some serious allegations-not necessarily proven-of parental abuse or neglect. Needless to say, it is a messy and sometimes humiliating situation for a parent or other relative to find themselves involved in, especially if they are innocent of any wrong-doing.

Nonetheless, the system is designed to protect the interests of children. While it’s true that children sometimes make false allegations, and other times well-meaning but misguided people meddle in the lives of others, the system must take a “better safe than sorry” approach until the truth is clearly established one way or another.

This usually means that children are taken into care outside of the family, often to foster homes or respite programs, or sometimes to more institutional type facilities. It’s definitely a serious step.

According to Carlsbad juvenile dependency lawyers Fischer & Van Thiel, anyone going to court for such serious matters should definitely seek legal counsel as early as possible in the process. Indeed many parents will have already retained lawyers before the juvenile dependency stage, but at this point it’s never a bad idea to call in specialists or an attorney with training very specific to the area of juvenile dependency law.

Dependency cases involve quite a lengthy process. They begin with three initial hearings, followed by a series of review hearings. The first of these is called a “detention hearing”, which is not quite as terrible as it sounds. The main purpose of this hearing is to make sure that everyone involved has an understanding of what is going on, and why the proceedings have started. At this hearing, a judge may decide to reverse the decision of the child having been removed from the family home, however it is fairly unusual for this to happen. The judge may also make provisions for visitation rights and other such things.

The second hearing is more serious. It is called a “jurisdictional hearing”, and its purpose is to determine whether the allegations of abuse or neglect are factual. This is where having a lawyer is so important, because a slip up here could not only permanently split your family apart, but also could potentially see you facing serious criminal charges. Sometimes this happens simply because the parents or children don’t understand what they’re being asked and give unsatisfactory answers. You definitely don’t want to be in that position, and a lawyer can help you avoid it.

If the matter still has not been resolved in favor of the parents by the conclusion of the jurisdictional hearing, a third one called a “disposition hearing” is held. This hearing is where the judge makes a firm decision about where the child will be placed, or if the child will be returned to the parents. The judge will also make decisions about the possibility of reunification at some point in the future.

Following this, at per-determined intervals there will be review hearings to check up on how the plan is working and try to resolve things in the best interests of the child. Sometimes this will include assessing the possibility of returning to the family home, or to make amendments to the visitation plan. For each stage of these proceedings, a lawyer will make sure your rights are asserted and will make sure you have a voice to represent you in court.