Understanding You and the Court
Here are some frequently asked questions to help guide you.
Is a lawyer appointed for me?
Juvenile dependency court is a civil court not a criminal court. Nonetheless, you have certain rights that must be given to you by the court. You have a right to a lawyer at every stage of the court proceedings. A lawyer is appointed for you when you first appear in court. The appointed lawyer will meet with you at the first hearing to discuss the case with you. Your lawyer will be given all of the documents regarding your case before the first hearing, and will discuss these documents with you.
You may also have a right to the services of a lawyer if you cannot get to court for the first hearing. You should call the court on the day of the hearing, or write the court before the hearing and request a lawyer be appointed for you. If you do not know the courtroom (Department) in which your case is going to be heard, then call the courtroom at the number listed in the section Court Location. If you do know the courtroom where the case is going to be heard then call 323 307 80 followed by the court number, for example, for courtroom (Department) 402 the number is (323) 307-8002.
What if I am a non-custodial parent or a parent not being accused of abuse or neglect?
Non-custodial parents and parents who have not been accused of abusing or neglecting the children have a right to a lawyer, a right to be present in court, and a right to request custody of their children. If you are one of these parents you should be notified by the social worker of the proceedings in juvenile court. If you do not know the court date you should call the court clerk at the number listed in the section Court Location.
Will I have to pay for the lawyer who is appointed for me?
You might. It depends on whether you can afford to pay. At the conclusion of the disposition hearing you will be sent to a financial office to decide if you can afford to pay and how much you should pay. You should bring your pay or income stubs and expense receipts with you to show your monthly or yearly income and expenses. You do not have to have a lawyer appointed for you if you wish to retain a lawyer at your own expense.
When is the first court hearing and what should I do before the hearing?
The first hearing held by the court is the arraignment and detention hearing and must be held within three (3) court days if your children have being taken from you. Your children may have been left in your custody, but usually, your children will have been temporarily detained from you. If your children have been detained from you, you have a right to speak to them on the telephone before the first hearing. Your telephone conversation will be monitored, that is, someone will be listening to everything that is said by you and your child.
The social worker must attempt to detain your children in the home of a relative or close family friend while you wait for the arraignment and detention hearing. Your children will not be detained in the home of a relative or close family friend if they have a history of criminal activity including recent drug usage or have been convicted of a felony. Also, your children will not be placed with a relative or close family friend if they have had their children taken from them, at some time, because of child abuse or neglect. The home must be safe for your children. But, if you want your children to be placed in the home of a particular relative or friend and all the persons in that home have no history or record of criminal activity then immediately tell the social worker. The person you have told the social worker about must cooperate with the social worker in having a background check.
Will anyone contact me before the court hearing?
On most occasions the social worker will attempt to discuss your case with you before a petition is filed in court. The social worker is investigating whether the case should be go to court or whether you should “voluntarily” agree to a case plan that could include removal of your children from your custody. You do not have a right to a lawyer at this stage.
In an attempt to cooperate with the social worker you may elect to discuss matters with the social worker, but you should be aware that anything you say may be used against your interests if the matter ever goes to court. You do not have to discuss any aspect of the case with the social worker, if you do not want to. Some social workers will tell you that you must discuss the case with them and some may even tell you that unless you discuss the allegations with them they will remove your children from your custody. The social worker may decide to remove your children from you and file a case with the court if you do not cooperate with them. However, if you decide not to speak to a social worker you should tell the social worker of your decision in a respectful manner.
What happens at the first court hearing?
At the arraignment and detention hearing your newly appointed lawyer will go over with you all of the documents filed with the court by services (DCFS). You should be given a copy of these documents by the social worker before the hearing. If you have not been given the documents (An Arraignment and Detention packet consisting of a petition, application for petition, and other documents) before the arraignment and detention hearing then request them from your lawyer at the first court hearing. It is critical that you discuss the case with your lawyer so that proper decisions can be made about how to handle your case. You should bring with you any documents that will assist your lawyer with your case and you should bring with you the names, addresses and telephone numbers of any person you believe is a potential witness. Your lawyer will have other cases on that day’s calendar so he or she will attempt to spend as much time with you as possible but may not be able to spend as much time as you would like. If that is the case request that your attorney meet with you at a later time in the attorney’s office so that all of your questions and concerns may be addressed. But, you should always know what the outcome of the proceeding was so, do not leave the courthouse without your lawyer discussing with you what happened in court and what is expected of you for the next court date.
At the arraignment and detention hearing the court will decide temporary custody of the children while the case is being further investigated. Visitation will be ordered and the judge may order you to begin some programs. The next court date and the type of hearing will be selected, that is the next court hearing may be a hearing to attempt to settle the case or a trial (called an adjudication hearing).
What do I do in court?
It is important that the bench officer (referee, commissioner, or judge) has a good impression of you. After all, that is the person making the important decisions regarding your case. Dress appropriately for court, meaning your best. This is very important. Also, speak respectfully to the bench officer and others in the court even if you do not agree with what they are saying. You are being judged on how you act around others and not just what it says in the petition. Others in court are going to say things you do not want to hear or they may say things that are not true or that are disrespectful to you. It is very important that you not react to these words. Let your lawyer do the speaking for you in court. After court you can let your lawyer know what it is you disagreed with.
What happened in court?
Based on the allegations in the petition filed with the court a case plan will immediately begin to be formulated by the social worker. This case plan may or may not be the one ordered by the judge. The judge will tell you what you have been ordered to do and you will be given a document by your lawyer informing you of what programs you should begin participating in. If the social worker does not immediately assist you in getting into these programs you need to let your lawyer know right away. Your lawyer has his/her own social workers and investigators, not connected to DCFS, to assist you with problems you may have with getting services from the social worker or programs you have entered. You may also use a service, provided by United Way and AIRS, called 211. You can dial 211 and speak with a live operator that will assist you in finding the programs that you need, or view the online 211 directory listings at http://www.healthycity.org
Do I get to visit with my children?
In most cases you will be allowed to visit with your children. If the social worker does not assist you in setting up these visits and making sure that they immediately and consistently occur let your lawyer know. The judge should have made an order as to where and how often your visits will occur and whether someone must monitor the visits. You have a right to request a specific person monitor your visits. To be a monitor a person must submit to a background check and be approved. If you have an approved monitor you will usually be
allowed to have more liberal visitation because your monitor will be able to monitor more often and for longer periods of time than the foster parent or the foster child agency with whom your children have been placed.
What do I do if I don’t have any way of getting to my visits or programs?
If you do not have the funds for transportation to your visits or programs you may request transportation funds from your social worker. It is important that you follow the rules to get your funds and it is important that if you have requested transportation funds from the social worker and they have been denied or have not been given to you that you immediately let your lawyer know.
When will I get my children returned to me?
Remember, the goal is to get your children returned to you. Your diligence and hard work is going to be necessary. Let your lawyer help you with your goal. Follow the directions of your lawyer, do the things required by the court and you should be successful in reaching your goal. About six months after the hearing called the disposition hearing the court will hold a hearing to review your case. At the six month review hearing the main issue is how well you are doing in your programs and how well your visits have been going with your children. Based on these things the bench officer will decide on whether your visits should be liberalized or your children returned to your care and custody. If your children are not returned to your custody at this first six month hearing, you may be able to have a another review hearing in another six months to decide whether your children should be returned to your custody.
Should I keep a notebook of what I say and do?
One of the most important things you can do is to keep a journal or notes of all contacts and conversations with the social worker and others involved in your case. Keep a detailed log of all visits with your children, including any visits that are cancelled and the reason for the cancelation. Disputes often arise on whether a visit took place, when you arrived, and what happened at the visit. Remember, the social worker and others are taking notes on every contact with you. At times, your version of what was said or what took place is different than the social worker’s or foster parent’s version. Without notes it might be difficult to accurately recall what happened. Your notes are extremely helpful to your lawyer when these disputes arise. Also, keep copies of all documents and certificates received from your programs and counseling.
How do I contact my lawyer?
Your lawyer should give you a business card with his/her telephone number on it. Also, this web site has the telephone number of your lawyer as well as his/her supervisor. Your lawyer is in court every day and sometimes it is difficult to return your telephone call the same day or even the next day. But, your lawyer will return your telephone call. When you leave a message for your lawyer make sure you speak slowly and clearly. Leave your name and telephone number along with the case number. The case number usually starts with CK. It is helpful to leave the next court date if you know it. Please keep your messages short and concise.