What Steps Does The Court Take After Child Abuse Is Alleged?

The courts do not take the steps after child abuse is alleged. Other people or a do. Which steps those people take depend on which court they’re filing in. For example, if DCFS has made a determination that abuse has occurred, DCFS may file various petitions in the juvenile court. They can file a petition for Protective Supervision Services (“PSS”), which is essentially leaving the child in the home but with oversight by DCFS, and requiring the parties to go through treatment and various services. They can file a petition for removal of the child into the care of a relative or to foster care. Other petitions can be filed, but those are the most typical that DCFS, through the Attorney General’s office, might file.

Private parties can also file those same kinds of petitions in juvenile court, but they have other options as well. They can file a child protective order to keep the alleged perpetrator away from the child, or to have that child’s contact with the alleged perpetrator supervised, at least for a period of time.

Private parties (like the other parent, grandparents, relatives, or adult friends) can also file various petitions in district court. For example, if the non-offending party is married to the alleged perpetrator, they can file a petition for divorce and ask the divorce court, the family law court, to restrain contact or unsupervised contact between the child and other parent until certain conditions have been met. If the parties are not married to each other, then they can file a paternity petition or a custody petition, and file motions under that case in the district court to accomplish the same things. If both parents are abusive or neglectful, non-parents can also file a petition for custody.

If a petition is filed either in the district court or the juvenile court, a parent may also file either a “motion for temporary orders,” or a motion for a “temporary restraining order” (“TRO”). Those are very different kinds of motions, even though they sound the same. With a motion for temporary orders, you’ll get a hearing about six weeks after you file the motion, where you can ask the court to enter orders that would protect the child. With a temporary restraining order, you’re asking the court to enter an order that same day, with the understanding that within 14 days there will be a hearing where you’ll have to demonstrate that immediate and irreparable harm will come to the child unless that temporary order entered that day remains permanent.

Although additional motions may be filed, those are the most typical types. The court will make a ruling on those motions, but the courts are not the ones reaching out to take the protective measures. The persons or agencies filing the motions (parents, DCFS through the Attorney General’s office, non-parents like grandparents, relatives or friends) are the ones filing the petitions and motions to protect the child(ren).

What Role Does Child Protective Services Play In A Child Abuse Case?

Child Protective Services, or CPS, is a subdivision of the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS), in the State of Utah. CPS is essentially an investigative team. It investigates whether or not abuse actually occurred. However, for reasons that I’ve explained in other interviews that can be found on my website, CPS investigations are often limited, and do not use all the available methods that can help uncover whether or not abuse occurred. For example, DCFS does not conduct “discovery” (e.g., depositions, interrogatories, subpoenas, etc.). Also, the main investigator is often fairly young, and less experienced.

What Role Does A Custody Evaluator Or A Parental Fitness Evaluator Play In A Child Abuse Case?

Privately hired evaluators are not always necessary in child abuse cases, but they can be very helpful. A custody evaluation would typically include an investigation about whether or not abuse or neglect occurred. TA parental fitness evaluation is narrower in scope than a custody evaluation, because it is only determining a parent’s fitness, and is not determining where custody should be placed. But both types of evaluations have what include an investigation into whether or not abuse occurred. The evaluator will look at the data collected by DCFS, by the parents, and will conduct their own interviews of the parents and of the child. They will review the court pleadings. They will subject the parents to psychological testing, and will review any other data that might give insight into whether or not the abuse occurred.

A custody evaluator or a parental fitness evaluator is generally a psychologist who has a great deal more training, experience, and expertise than the typical DCFS or CPS case worker. These evaluations can range from $1,500 to upwards of $10,000. This depends on the type of case, whether custody is being evaluated, and the amount of data and interviews that must be conducted. Usually these evaluations are paid for by one or both of the parties.

Will A Family Court Hearing Take Place To Address Child Abuse Allegations?

If either party requests a hearing to put orders designed to protect the child into place, then the court will have a hearing. Usually the hearings will be held to address a party’s motion for temporary orders, a temporary restraining order, a child protective order, or trial (for a permanent resolution, as opposed to temporary resolution). Trial would adjudicate the underlying custody petition or modification petition, or whatever underlying petition was filed. Those are the types of hearings where the court would address allegations of abuse.

For more information on Steps Of Court In Child Abuse Case, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (801) 616-3301 today.

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*Child Welfare Law Specialist Nat’l Assoc. of Counsel for Children