by Georgia Lord
Georgia Lord Law
At the section’s February 4 breakfast meeting, attorneys Lila Bradley and Lynn Goldman provided a wealth of practical information regarding Department of Family and Children Services investigations and related Juvenile Court proceedings. They noted that a DFCS investigation can pop up unexpectedly during a custody dispute (for instance, in response to a complaint by other party or a member of their family), and cautioned that the manner in which a parent responds to the investigator can have a critical impact on the outcome of their custody case (and the well being of the child involved).
Pictured at right:
Alice Limehouse and Dan Branch
Their suggestions included advice to give clients regarding things they should try to do and things they should avoid doing when responding to DFCS staff. For example, here are several things persons who are the subject of a DFCS investigation should not do:
- Do not underestimate the power of the government – because the DFCS staff member’s assessment of the situation plays a key role in determining whether your child is removed from your home, at least in the short term;
- Do not ask your lawyer to call the DFCS case manager – because the case manager will decline to talk to the attorney and simply refer them to the agency’s counsel;
- Do not sign anything – especially a Safety Plan – before reviewing it with your lawyer – because you can be stuck with these terms for a long time; and,
- Do not expect to find out who made the report to DFCS – because the agency guards that information very closely.
On the other hand, there are some things that clients can do to foster a favorable outcome from a DFCS investigation:
- Keep your focus on the welfare of the child;
- Hold your temper;
- Be respectful and cooperative;
- Be sensitive to race and class issues;
- Get the name and contact information of each DFCS person that you talk to as well as each person’s immediate supervisor;
- Ask for details of the complaint;
- Make contemporaneous notes of each and every conversation with DFCS;
- Consult with a lawyer immediately;
- Take the child to a doctor for an examination if physical abuse is alleged;
- Expect DFCS to interview the child outside of parents’ presence; and,
- Take a lawyer to the family team meeting.
Ms. Goldman and Ms. Bradley also presented an overview of the DFCS investigation process and the juvenile court proceedings that can follow. They cautioned that juvenile court litigation should be handled by a specialist who is well-versed in the rules and procedures of that court.
Section Chair Kyla Lines chaired the meeting. Past section chair Debra Gold introduced Judge Hidetoshi Azechi, who is visiting from the Kyoto District Court in Japan. Judge Azechi is studying the judicial system here, and is eager to sit in on various types of hearings and trials.
Lynn Pasqualetti and Lawrence Waller of section sponsor HLM Financial Group explained the services their firm offers. These include accounting and tax services, with special emphasis on tax planning around a divorce. They encourage divorcing couples to do some tax planning before the divorce is finalized, so that they can consider how to structure things in a way that minimizes the tax load. The firm can also help clients get caught up on filing returns and resolving issues with the IRS. In addition, the firm offers investment planning services. These investment services provide fee-based, independent advice that is individually tailored for each client.