Understanding the DCF Appeals Process
In the appeals process, time is extremely important. For example, a parent wishing to appeal a Termination of Parental Rights has 20 days from the date notice of the judgment or decision is issued by the judge or clerk to appeal.
Trials occur with some regularity in the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters (unlike other areas of law, where trials are an infrequent event). There are 3 main points at which a trial is usually held in the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters: an Order of Temporary Custody 10-Day Hearing, a hearing on a neglect petition, and a Termination of Parental Rights Trial.
The Order of Temporary Custody (OTC) 10-Day Hearing
Parents have a right to challenge the issuing of an Order of Temporary Custody (OTC). If DCF achieves temporary custody, the parents lose a small piece of their legal rights to the child in question, so most parents do choose to challenge the OTC and seek a trial.
Lasting from half a day to multiple days, OTC hearings are usually very involved. The DCF’s attorney will offer evidence as to why the parents should lose temporary custody. This evidence may include testimony from police officers, doctors, teachers, therapists, and even other family members. OTC trials are governed by the rules of evidence but the legal standard is proof supported by a fair preponderance that the child or children are in imminent risk.
The most demanding aspect of the OTC trial is how quickly the trial occurs. The parents have a right to a contested hearing within 10 days of the first appearance on the OTC. This accelerated time schedule is unusual in the terms of normal trial practice. That is why an attorney who has handled numerous OTC hearings is in a better position to defend you in this fast process.
Hearing on the Neglect Petition
In cases where no Order of Temporary Custody is granted, the only matter pending before the court is the neglect petition. When a parent elects to have a trial on a neglect petition, the court must determine whether, at the time of the petition’s filing, the child was in a condition which could be considered neglect under the statutes of Connecticut.
This is where some parents lose sight of the law. Neglect in Connecticut does not require the parent to engage in intentional conduct. For example, an upper-middle class family who takes their children to school daily, enrolls them in extracurricular activities, buys them new clothes, and keeps them updated medically and dentally could still have neglected their children if it could be shown that the parents constantly yell, argue and belittle the children. All types of conduct, no matter who you are or what you earn, could potentially be viewed as grounds for a neglect charge.
Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) Trial
The final opportunity for a trial in juvenile matters is the Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) petition. If granted, this petition completely ends the parent-child relationship.
Termination of Parental Rights trials are time-consuming and complex affairs. By the time a termination trial is held, a case could be 2 or 3 years old, and may involve voluminous amounts of documents, service providers, multiple evaluators, numerous DCF social workers, and numerous other persons needed to provide evidence. Therefore, termination trials tend to be multiple-day trials. The termination trial requires an attorney who possesses the necessary trial skills and knowledge of the underlying law of abuse and neglect in Connecticut.