Dependency & Neglect/ DCS
Circumstances sometimes arise in which a child needs to be taken out of his/her parents’ home. This process may involve terminating or suspending parental rights. In some cases, Tennessee’s Department of Children Services (DCS) brings a petition for the termination of parental rights; in others, a motion for removal from the parents’ home is filed with the court by concerned parties such as grandparents or other family members or friends.
Nashville attorney Mary Frances Parker devotes a substantial amount of her practice to cases involving claims of dependency and neglect. She has represented family members seeking to obtain guardianship of minor children, and has also worked on behalf of parents who are fighting to raise their children. If you are facing issues related to child dependency and neglect, please contact us today; we are ready to help.
When DCS Acts to Terminate Parenting Rights
The Department of Children’s Services is mandated by law to take action to terminate parental rights in cases that involve severe abuse of a child or of a child’s siblings; a child who is in foster care for 15 of the previous 22 months; or an abandoned child who is less than a year old.
In other situations DCS may postpone bringing termination proceedings if the child is being cared for by a relative, if there are compelling (documented) reasons why the termination would not be in the best interest of the child, or if DCS has not made efforts to provide reunification with the parents.
Transfer of Custody to Someone Who Is Not the Parent
Courts will transfer custody to a non-parent only if a child is found to be “dependent and neglected.” The definition of “dependent and neglected” includes children
- who have no parent, guardian, or legal custodian;
- whose parent or guardian is unfit to care for them;
- who are unlawfully or improperly supervised or cared for, or unlawfully kept out of school;
- whose parent, guardian, or custodian doesn’t provide needed medical, surgical, institutional, or hospital care for them;
- who are suffering from abuse or neglect.
The law details additional circumstances that would lead to a finding of dependency and neglect. If any of these conditions exist, the court may legally transfer custody to an adult other than the parent, if it finds that such action would be in the child’s best interest.
Obtaining Guardianship of a Child
The juvenile courts of Tennessee are authorized to appoint a qualified individual as the permanent guardian of a “dependent and neglected child.” The guardian may be any suitable adult who has a significant relationship with the child. If the child is in state custody, the court will seek the opinion of DCS on the appointment of a specific permanent guardian. If a child is not in state custody, relatives or non-relatives who have physical or legal custody of a child may seek to be appointed as the child’s permanent guardian.
Determining Who Would Be a Suitable Legal Guardian
Tennessee courts will consider a variety of factors in determining whether a particular adult would be a suitable guardian for a child. That adult must:
- be emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially suitable
- be able to provide the child with a safe, permanent home;
- express a commitment to raise the child until the child is 18;
- demonstrate a clear understanding of the financial ramifications of becoming a permanent guardian;
- be willing to comply with any court order regarding parental visitation, contact, or the provision of information about the child.
Modifying an Existing Guardianship
Modification or termination of a guardianship order may be requested by the permanent guardian, the child (if over 16 years old), the child’s parent, the state, or the court itself. In this context, a judge may consider whether the circumstances have changed so that the child’s parent is now able and willing to care for the child, or the permanent guardian is no longer able to continue to care for the child.
Whether you are fighting to recover the right to raise your children, seeking to obtain guardianship of a child, or interested in filing for a modification to an existing order, please contact us today.
To schedule a consultation about the particular circumstances of your case, call us at (615) 804-6684, email us, or fill out and submit our online “Contact Us” form.