The Juvenile Court has exclusive jurisdiction over and is the sole court for initiating dependency proceedings. The purpose of dependency proceedings is to assist and protect children whose physical or mental health and welfare is substantially at risk of harm from abuse, neglect, or exploitation. The primary factor in a determination of dependency is the child’s need, and not the parent’s circumstances nor who is responsible for the circumstances that the child is in. Dependency proceedings are subject to strict timelines and other rules to ensure expeditious resolution and to provide the greatest protection as promptly as possible for children. Similarly, although due process is an important aspect of every legal proceeding, the due process requirements that parents and litigants be given reasonable notice, an opportunity to be heard, and an opportunity to present his or her claim or defense are particularly important based upon the serious nature of dependency proceedings and the potential to affect a parent’s rights to their child. A petition alleging dependency may be filed by an employee of the Department of Family and Children Services (“DFCS” or “DFACS”), a law enforcement officer, and any person who has actual knowledge or information of the abuse, neglect, or abandonment of a child. There are several hearings held for the protection of the child involved, including a preliminary protective hearing (“72-hour hearing”), a dependency adjudication hearing, a dispositional hearing, and a permanency plan hearing. Importantly, in dependency cases, an attorney or a Court Appointed Special Advocate (“CASA”), or both, may be appointed as the child’s Guardian ad Litem, and the child is treated as a party to the litigation, in comparison to Superior Court custody cases.
If you need assistance with a host of juvenile court matters, we can help. Contact the experienced lawyers at Thompson, Meier & King at our main location in downtown Canton in the heart of Cherokee County or in our satellite office in downtown Blue Ridge in north Georgia.