Proper Courtroom Etiquette During Child Protective Services Proceedings

When a client inquires about courtroom behavior, I can’t help but smile, thinking that this person may have led a fortunate life, free from the need to step into a courtroom. The reality is that, in most cases, a court appearance is linked to circumstances one would rather avoid. A Child Protective Services (CPS) case is certainly one such situation no one wishes to encounter. Nevertheless, if you are under investigation for child abuse or neglect, it’s crucial to understand what to anticipate in court and how to conduct yourself appropriately.

The Look and Feel of Your Child Protective Services Case Courtroom

Courtrooms in Texas exhibit various sizes and layouts. In more populous counties, you’ll likely find modern, spacious buildings reminiscent of those seen on TV or in movies. Conversely, smaller counties tend to have more modest courthouses without the grandeur of urban counterparts.

However, the application of the law remains consistent regardless of the courtroom’s size. Judges in smaller counties may provide more personalized attention due to their lighter caseloads, but their interpretation of the Texas Family Code should remain the same. Consequently, you can anticipate a degree of consistency in rulings, regardless of your courtroom’s location.

Upon entering the courtroom, you’ll notice the judge’s bench positioned at the back against one wall. The judge sits elevated above the attendees, including attorneys, enabling a clear view of proceedings and direct communication with anyone in the room when necessary.

Adjacent to the judge, you’ll find the clerk responsible for managing the judge’s docket and a court reporter tasked with creating a word-for-word typed record of all spoken interactions during your hearing and others scheduled that day. In front of the judge, there are two tables where you, Child Protective Services, and other involved parties may sit during the hearing. In some counties, like Harris County, parties typically stand near the bench, facilitating judge-directed queries and testimony listening.

Docket Call

At the commencement of the court’s session, the judge initiates the docket call, which is a list of cases slated for hearings on that day. Before the docket call, the bailiff instructs all individuals in the courtroom to rise in respect of the judge’s entrance. Everyone remains standing until the judge grants permission for seating.

Once seated, pay close attention for your case to be announced. Since the judge may have numerous cases to call, although you are present and prepared at 9:00, your case may not appear on the docket until fifteen minutes later, with an actual hearing before the judge scheduled for the afternoon. Be ready for any potential outcome in this regard.

After your case is called, and you have a more precise idea of when your hearing will occur, you can leave the courtroom unless your attorney or court staff instructs otherwise. Before departing, inform your attorney of your location. Stay nearby, as the judge may advance your case if others are unprepared when called. Missing your case call can cause disruptions for all parties, including the judge.

Conducting Yourself Appropriately in the Courtroom

I always exercise caution when offering advice on courtroom etiquette, as you are an adult who typically knows how to comport yourself in various situations. However, if you lack courtroom experience or are uncertain about appropriate behavior in formal settings, this section is tailored for you.

As previously mentioned, the judge will eventually call your case for the hearing. You, your attorney, and any other involved parties will approach the judge. Pay close attention to your attorney’s guidance regarding seating or standing and when it is appropriate for you to speak. While the judge may discuss your or your child’s situation, interrupting the judge to correct a mistake is not suitable.

Avoid raising your voice in anger when appearing before a judge. Child Protective Services may present information that you believe to be incorrect or misleading. Instead of addressing these concerns during the hearing, discuss them with your attorney. By adhering to professional standards of conduct during the hearing, you can demonstrate to the judge that you take the case seriously and are prepared to assume the responsibility of caring for your child once more.

When responding to questions from the judge, provide clear and concise answers. It is not necessary to rectify misconceptions or inaccuracies in a single response. Answer the question as asked honestly. If you do not understand the question, feel free to request clarification. Addressing the judge as ‘your honor’ is also a respectful and appropriate practice.

Involving Your Family as a Support System in Your Child Protective Services Case

A Child Protective Services case extends beyond just you and your child; it also impacts your family and friends. Therefore, it’s essential to rally your loved ones and enlist their support to achieve a successful outcome in your case.

CPS plays a significant role in organizing Family Group Decision Making meetings. During these meetings, we encourage you to invite individuals who can serve as positive examples of your parenting and caregiving abilities. The advantage of these meetings is that they typically occur before any potential removal of your child from your home.

If you’re struggling to devise solutions to address any hazardous or harmful conditions in your home, these individuals can assist you in brainstorming effective remedies. These meetings may sometimes bring up past issues. So, it’s advisable to set aside such concerns. Focus on ensuring your child’s safety and their continued presence in your home.

Family Meetings with CPS, Safety Plans, and What’s to Come

In tomorrow’s blog post, we will delve into the ways they can support you and your child. Additionally, we will explore the significance of safety plans. These are vital tools that can allow your child to stay in your home while addressing potential safety concerns.

Should you have any immediate questions for the attorneys at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our office. We offer free consultations and are available to meet with individuals from our community, just like you, six days a week.

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