We’ve now had an opportunity to discuss how and why Child Protective Services (CPS) would open up an investigation regarding you and your family as well as how the investigation proceeds. The legal aspects of the investigation as far as appearing in court and addressing the allegations of abuse and neglect in front of a judge have been talked about as well. Finally, the nature of how your child can be removed from your home and how to proceed from that point was the most recent topic related to this subject that we have gone over.
Today I would like to answer some questions that I have received from prior clients regarding CPS cases. These are not necessarily the sort of questions that have answers in law books or in the Texas Family Code. These are questions that affect you on a personal level and can impact your ability to manage yourself and your expectations during a CPS case. They may seem like “little” issues compared to others that we have already covered but I think if you add up these questions they equal a very important portion of your CPS case.
Transportation and arriving at court on time
Thinking a few steps ahead when you have a legal case is important. I know that on a day to day basis we can get caught up in our typical routines and we sort of operate on auto-pilot. We don’t need to think too far ahead because our routines are so much a part of our lives there is not need for advanced planning. You will take the same route to work that you’ve always taken and will return home the same way as well. Dinner will probably be at the same time each day and your children will start school and come home at the same times as well.
A CPS case that involves you needing to attend court hearings is an alteration to that routine, however. Since you are varying your activities on a day where you have a court appearance that needs to be made it is crucial that you plan ahead as much as possible for any problems that could impact your case.
For instance- if you do not have a vehicle to transport you to your hearing, or don’t have a driver’s license, you will need to think ahead to figure out how you are going to get down to the courthouse. Taking public transportation is not an option for many of us who live in the Houston area, so you may need to take a cab or ride-sharing service to avoid missing your hearing. Download any app on your phone the day before your hearing and do a trial run to make sure you know how to summon a ride and tell them how to get to your destination.
Most CPS cases are called at 9:00 in Harris County. This means that you should at your courtroom at least half an hour early. This way you can talk to your attorney about any questions you can have and will be ready to go when the judge calls your case. That does not mean your case will be going before the judge at 9:00 a.m. sharp but you should assume that it will.
Bear in mind that traveling downtown to the courthouse is not like going to the library in your neighborhood or a doctor’s appointment. Traffic is very congested in the mornings and finding parking can be tough if you drive yourself to the hearing. You should anticipate that there will be thirty minutes worth of delays once you get near downtown so that you are not late for your hearing.
Dressing appropriately for a courtroom appearance
Part of the routine that we discussed at the outset of this blog post dealt with going to work each and every weekday. Odds are that you wear the same type of clothes each day and don’t give much additional thought to this subject. Going to court is an entirely different matter, however, and you will need to think about what you need to wear.
My standard answer to people when asked what they should wear to a court hearing is that anything you would consider putting on for church or a job interview is appropriate. Shower, shave and comb your hair before the hearing. The key is looking presentable. However, there is a fine line between presentable and looking overly “done up”. Dousing yourself in cologne or perfume before the hearing is a sure way to drive anyone within smelling distance of you insane- including the judge.
You don’t need to go out and spend a ton of money on new clothes, either. Slacks and a collared shirt (tucked in) is perfectly acceptable for gentlemen. A lady cannot go wrong wearing a dress or skirt (appropriate length, of course), with a blouse or shirt. Short shorts, yoga pants, baggy or revealing clothes and ridiculously high heels should all stay in your closet. You do not want to be a distraction. Perception is important in a hearing and you do not want to give the judge any reason to think less of you. This may not be fair, but as my granddad would always tell me: “It is what it is.”
Expected length of your hearing
This is one of the more difficult questions to answer. While we have already said to arrive at court by 8:30 for a hearing scheduled at 9:00, the reality is depending on the county where you live your case may not be heard until much later in the day. A CPS case is not like a divorce where all you need are two parties and their attorneys for a hearing to occur. A CPS case involves you, CPS, a guardian ad litem, an attorney ad litem, CASA volunteers, etc. All these folks need to be present for the hearing and many of these folks will have other hearings they need to attend in your court and others most likely. Be prepared to be in the courtroom all day. You should request off time from work for an entire day just to be safe.
Do you need to bring anything with you to court?
Documentation from CPS showing what you’ve done to achieve goals in your safety or service plans should be taken to court. If you’ve attended meetings with CPS, counselors, addiction treatment meetings or anything associated with your case you ought to bring it with you. Take these documents and put them in a folder. Bring the folder with you and take out documents if you are asked to do so. Do not spend time rifling through the paperwork either while you are waiting for your case to be called or during the hearing. It is distracting for the people around you and for you.
Should you bring any people with you to court?
You are welcome to bring persons to court with you to offer suffer during the hearing and in waiting for your hearing to begin. It is understandable that you would be nervous or apprehensive about a hearing for a CPS case. You are working outside of your comfort zone and if you would feel better having a friend or family member there with you then by all means bring them.
The same rules that apply to your behavior in court apply to your guests. If you believe that a friend or family member will cause a problem then it is probably best to leave that person at home.
What to expect when you step foot in court- tomorrow’s blog topic
How you should behave in court and what to expect in the courtroom will be the subject matter for tomorrow’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC.
If you have questions for our office please do not hesitate to contact us. We offer free of charge consultations six days a week and would be honored to speak to you about how we can help you and your family.