Over the past few days, we have spent some time discussing the various steps in the courtroom stage of your CPS case. From the first hearing, through meetings with CPS and into mediation, you have been able to see how a typical CPS case progresses from the beginning until the final stages. Today we will go over the last step in a CPS case- a final hearing, otherwise known as a trial.
The Texas Family Code mandates that the judge, in your case, issue a final order regarding your child within one year of him or her being removed from your home. The judge can grant an extension of six months in rare circumstances, and only if it is determined that the best interests of your child call for doing so.
The reason why these extensions are so rare is that the law favors providing your child as much permanency as possible when it comes to where he or she will be living. Since your child has been in limbo for a year as far as where they will be living, it is reasonable to expect a judge will not want to cause your child to have to wait another six months to find out their fate.
During this time, the court will be deciding one question, most likely: whether or not your parental rights are going to be terminated. If your case has made it this far in the process, you can assume that the abuse or neglect that was committed was determined to be extremely severe and deserving of consideration to terminate your parental rights.
The other relevant subject in this discussion is where your child will reside after the case is concluded if he or she cannot return to your home. A foster family, group home, relative’s house, or friend’s home are just a few options that may be available for a judge to select from. Adoption is another possibility for the court to consider if anyone has voiced a willingness to adopt your child if your parental rights have been terminated.
What a trial looks like from the ground level
Once you are in court for your trial, the court will hear from witnesses involved in your case and review other evidence to decide whether or not you have followed your service plan as well as you could be expected to do.
Can you be a safe parent? This is the ultimate question that the judge in yoneed to decide. Wha in your caset is in your child's best interests now, and in the future, and any other consideration relevant to your case will be decided upon by the judge in your hearing? In the past few days, I wrote about how important it is to make sure that you understand all aspects of your case, the safety plan, and what is expected of you in your case. All of this is so important that you will be expected to fulfill your obligations under these plans. If you do not, you run the risk of losing the opportunity to have a relationship with your child.
A trial can last for multiple days. You will need to be present for the entire length of the trial and should take off work to do so, if necessary. The trial result will be a judge signing final orders that could either return your child to your home, name another person as the managing conservator of your child that allows you to maintain some degree of rights to your child, or the order could terminate your parental rights completely.
Once your parental rights are terminated, you would have no say-so over where your child ends up living. You know a relative or other person could be awarded conservatorship rights to your child in this instance. Or, your child could be placed into the permanent care of CPS and then adopted by a relative, friend, foster parent, or another person.
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about attending court in a CPS case
The odds are decent that you have never been involved in a court case before and may never have been to a courthouse in your life. In that case, you may have questions about how to go about getting to court and what you should do once you get into the building. Before we shift gears to discuss other topics related to CPS cases, I wanted to ask and then answer some questions that could provide you with some peace of mind before heading to court.
What if you don’t have a way of getting to court? If you find yourself in a position where you do not have a ride to court on the day of a hearing or trial, what can you do? First of all, you should not have figured this out on the day of the hearing. You will have plenty of advance notice about when your hearing will be, so there is no excuse for not being able to at least inquire about getting transportation set up. If necessary, you should ask multiple people for help if one person cannot help out on the day of the hearing. If your hearing is set to begin at 9:00, you should plan to arrive in court by 8:30.
You can also speak to CPS about getting a ride to the hearing on a city bus- if one is available in your area. You may need to travel some way to a bus stop to get a ride, but that is much better than having to postpone a hearing or otherwise miss the hearing completely. While it can be frustrating, it can appear to a judge that you do not take your case seriously if you do not attend every court appearance.
Early is on time when it comes to attending a courthouse hearing.
Leave early from your house the morning of your hearing. If you live in Houston, then you know how bad traffic can be. Plan for something to go wrong on the morning of your hearing and leave yourself plenty of time to avoid accidents on the roads, find parking, go through security and then make it to your courtroom in plenty of time for a hearing. As I mentioned a moment ago, if your hearing starts at 9, you should plan on being seated by 8:30. Your case may not get called until much later in the day, but you should not plan on having the luxury of arriving late.
Is there a dress code when it comes to making a court appearance?
While it is true that not everyone in court shows up in a three-piece suit, it is better to be over-dressed than underdressed. In your case, the judge will not expect you to go out and buy a new outfit for court, but at the same time, he will expect you not to come in your pajama bottoms and a hoodie. Find a middle ground, and you will be fine, as far as your dress is concerned. Wearing what you would wear to a job interview or church is a safe bet to make.
For men, this could mean wearing slacks and a collared shirt- always tucked in. Dress shoes rather than tennis shoes are recommended but, at the very least, plan on wearing a collared shirt and tucking it into your jeans or slacks. If you have tattoos, you should plan on wearing clothing that will cover them up. For women, dress pants and a nice shirt work well. A dress (not too short with a conservative neckline) is another option that would suit you well for a hearing. You may have options that look more fashionable in your closet but leave the more fashion-forward choices at home instead of something your grandmother would like better.
Should you plan on being in court all day for your hearing?
There is no perfect answer to this question, unfortunately. Each judge will call their docket differently. Many courts call their oldest cases. First, many of them do not. If yours is a recently filed case, you may not get your case called until lunchtime or later. I have had many CPS cases with clients in Harris County, where we did not get called until almost three o’clock in the afternoon. The point is that you cannot predict when your case will get called, and so you need to be prepared to be at the courthouse all day, potentially. This means letting your employer know well in advance of your need to take off work. Child care arrangements will need to be made, as well.
Do you need to bring anything with you to court?
This is a question that clients frequently ask me. Some folks have kept diligent notes, calendars, and photos of events that have dated back from their child's birth. My wife is like that. She has articles of clothing from when our kids were knee-high to a grasshopper. Each baby wore the same outfit home from the hospital that the kid before them wore. Needless to say, parents believe that this type of sentimental artifact affects a judge.
The reality is that they do not. Do not bother bringing photo albums or anything like that. You will spend the entirety of your hearing rifling through photos or notes from your kids. You will lose out on your only opportunity to provide evidence to this judgment as to why your child should not be removed from your home and your parental rights terminated. Instead of focusing on years-old photos, I recommend that you focus on the progress made in fulfilling your obligations under the service plan. Have you been sober for a year now? Have you attended anger management every week since your child has been removed from your home? Did you finally get around to fixing the leaky roof in your child’s bedroom? These are the facts that you should focus on.
Otherwise, it is a good idea to bring something to occupy your time with. As I mentioned earlier, you may end up spending some time waiting for your case to be called. A book is a great thing to bring. Magazines can be a distraction and are noisy so leave those at home. Before you assume that you can turn your phone to silent and watch videos, many judges do not allow persons in the court (other than attorneys) to have cell phones out when a court is in session. Your judge's bailiff will be roaming the gallery and looking for violators of this rule. The confiscation of cell phones is not unheard of.
Finally- do not bring food to your hearing or trial. Water most likely will not be allowed to get past security. Firearms, even if they have a license to carry, need to remain at home as well.
More frequently asked questions will be answered in tomorrow’s blog post.
I will touch on a few more frequently asked questions tomorrow and provide you with answers based on my experience in courtrooms across southeast Texas. In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding the content of today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan.
Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in our office. These consultations are a great opportunity to ask questions and address your needs in a comfortable and pressure-free environment. Our attorneys and staff take a great deal of pride in representing people in our community, just like you. Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist you and your family.
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