If you've been reading the blog posts from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, for the past few weeks, you'll know that we've been focusing on Child Protective Services (CPS) cases recently. This is because our office has spoken with several people in our community who have come to our office to speak to our attorneys about situations involving CPS investigations. There wasn't as much information available for such an essential and possibly life-altering topic as we would have liked. This led us to write these blog posts to help make sure people like yourself have answers to questions related to this subject.
For the most part, we have shared with you information about how you are supposed to act within a case. Whether it be towards your CPS caseworker, family, or parties to a lawsuit filed by CPS, we wanted to approach these posts from your perspective as a parent going through this difficult time. If you feel more comfortable with the process, you will likely be a better party to the case and more likely than to be able to have your child returned to your home if they are removed due to allegations of abuse or neglect.
Today I would like to look at reasonable expectations that you should have for your attorney in a CPS case. Attorneys are duty-bound to represent you as a client to the best of their abilities and put your interests and goals ahead of their own. Family law attorneys who represent you in a CPS case are no different. There are a handful of responsibilities that your attorney has about your representation that I will discuss now.
The responsibility to meet with you as soon as possible
Once you have hired an attorney or have had one appointed to you by the judge in your CPS case, the lawyer should contact you by phone to set up an in-person meeting. If you have a court date coming up, this meeting should occur at least two days before the court so that you and your attorney can discuss strategy and goals. Your attorney should have at least a day after your meeting to work on your evidence-based presentation on anything new that has come up in your meeting.
The responsibility to meet with any persons with information about your case
Your attorney should reach out to any CPS personnel who have been involved in the investigation of your case, your child's attorney; any Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) who have been assigned to your case, as well as any other person that may have information that is needed for your hearing. Your attorney will have spoken to you about the nature of the allegations made against you. Still, if your attorney can learn from others about their perspective on your case, it can be enlightening and beneficial.
The responsibility to make sure you are aware of any documents that have been filed with the court
When CPS first files a petition to have your child removed from your home, an affidavit (statement made under oath) will be filed along with the petition. This affidavit will detail the reasons why CPS became involved with your family in the first place and the reasons why they believe that it is in your child's best interests to be removed from your home.
Their justifications for seeking temporary custody of your child need to be explained to you by your attorney. This is not something where you will want to have to guess the reasons for your child's removal or wonder why CPS is "picking" on you and your family. The language used in these documents is not always straightforward, so please have your attorney discuss this with you if something is confusing to you. As new documents are filed, your attorney should make them all available to you and answer any questions. Do not feel like you are wasting your attorney's time asking questions. Your attorney must be able to explain the issues of your case to you. If she cannot do so, how can you feel confident about her ability to explain the issues to a judge?
The responsibility to explain to you proposed court orders and how they can impact you and your child.
Each time you go to court for a hearing, the judge will typically issue orders from the bench that will get written down in an order signed off by all the parties to your case. These orders are not mere suggestions for your or any other party's behavior. They are specific mandates from the judge that will dictate how you behave in any situation regarding your life and this investigation.
The last thing you will want to do is do your best to try and live by the terms of the order but then fail in some areas where you do not understand what is being expected of you. The easiest way to avoid this problem altogether is to speak to your attorney about whatever court orders have been laid out in your case. Ask for an explanation of each thing you are expected to do, and your lawyer will walk you through each accordingly.
The responsibility to learn your goals for your case and to work towards achieving those goals
Accomplishing your interests and goals is the primary objective of your attorney in a CPS case. When you meet with your attorney early on and tell her what you want to have happened in this case, your lawyer will speak to you about each goal and give you advice and perspective on all of them. If you have a goal that is not feasible, your attorney should tell you as much. However, there is a difference between "infeasible" and "unlikely." Just because a goal will be hard to achieve does not mean it should not be a goal for you.
Your attorney may not tell you everything you want to hear, and that's ok. Your lawyer would be doing you a disservice by only telling you things that make you feel good rather than telling you things that allow you some perspective on your case. It is ok to disagree with your attorney. Ultimately in situations where you and your attorney disagree on a subject in your case, you are the one who has the final say- not your attorney.
The responsibility to communicate with you regularly about your case
If you have a hearing, meeting, or counseling session coming up, your attorney's job is to keep you up to date about this. If she spoke with the attorney for CPS regarding conditions under which your child may be returned to your home, then that conversation needs to be relayed to you to weigh in on those conditions and whether they are agreeable to you.
How can you help your lawyer in representing you? Let's find out in tomorrow's blog post.
Your attorney is the one who represents your interests in hearings and with CPS personnel, but she is not there to fight your battles alone. You, too, have responsibilities that need to be met to accomplish whatever goals you have for your CPS case. Please join us tomorrow as we discuss those issues in detail.
If you have questions regarding CPS cases or any other subject in family law, please do not hesitate to contact our office today. The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, offer free of charge consultations six days a week. We will work with you to answer your questions and to assist you in learning more about your legal situation.