Before we continue our discussion on the court process associated with your CPS case, I wanted to take a quick timeout to go over what a service plan is and how it can impact your case.
A service plan is an agreement between you and CPS and will govern your behavior's expectations during the CPS case. If there are areas of your life that you and CPS agree need to be improved, they will be detailed within the service plan. This could be attending counseling if you have an anger management issue, alcoholics anonymous if you have a substance abuse issue, or simply fixing a condition in your home that is dangerous for a child.
By signing the service plan, you agree to all aspects of the document and that you understand and agree that CPS needs to be involved in your child's life. Be sure to read the safety plan carefully to know every aspect of it and what it can mean to you and your family. Before signing, make sure your attorney has reviewed it and that you have shared your concerns with your attorney about its contents. The risk of not abiding by the service plan is that CPS can use this to justify their asking to have your parental rights terminated.
Attending a Permanency Hearing
One of the essential hearings you will attend in your child's CPS case is a Permanency Hearing. It occurs six months after CPS has been awarded temporary conservatorship over your child. A judge will be interested in seeing if you are living up to the terms of your service plan and if you have any work to do in that regard.
CPS has a responsibility to update the judge with a report on how the case is proceeding. This report should be filed before the hearing and a copy made available to you and your attorney. It is an excellent move to have that report reviewed and any issues with its contents detailed before the hearing so that you have pointed to discuss with the judge. The report will detail opinions about you and your child, and if anything is incorrect or off base be, sure to bring that up to the judge in the hearing. CPS writes it in the report does not mean that it is necessarily true.
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) can always file their report, which details what has gone on in the case from their perspective. Remember that a CASA is likely not an attorney but is specially trained to help judges make recommendations about where your child is best served to be permanent after the CPS case investigation has concluded.
The CASA volunteer will detail how your child has adjusted to their new living situation and its effect on their performance in school. The CASA volunteer will have met with your child multiple times and will help the judge get a window into their psyche. If any aspect of the case needs to be worked on, then the CASA volunteer will make that clear to the judge. CPS is taking steps to ensure your child's safety and progress in making your home environment conducive for your child's return permanently.
Can your child be returned to your home after the first permanency hearing
Your child can be returned to you after the first permanency hearing though it does not happen often. A judge would need to feel confident that not only have you lived up to each portion of the service plan but that you have also shown that any further involvement by CPS is not justified.
Overall, there is typically more than one permanency hearing in a CPS case, however. About four months after the first permanency hearing, the second permanency hearing is typically the occasion you can expect to hear from the judge whether your child can be returned to your home permanently. If your child is not returned to you on this date, a trial date will be set to occur within two months of the second permanency hearing.
Mediation – What it is and how it can help you and your family
A third-party mediator will meet with you and all of the other parties to your case to discuss whether a resolution can be worked out without the need for a trial. You need not wait for the later stages of your CPS case to request mediation, as it can be held at any point after the initial hearing. It is possible to settle all of your case's issues or settle on only a few of the outstanding issues.
In mediation, the mediator's job is to help all the parties look at the case from the other parties'’ vantage points. So often, in a family law case, an individual party is so focused on their case that they lose sight of the other parties and their positions. From those positions come strengths and weaknesses. If the mediator believes that you are better positioned to accept a settlement offer than to proceed to a trial, they can tell you that. Likewise, if the mediator believes that CPS has overestimated the strength of their position relative to yours, they can be counseled as such.
Despite their position, the mediator cannot make decisions for any party and is not there to advocate for a particular party or their positions. When and if you all reach an agreement in mediation, the settlement agreement will be put into writing and signed off on by all the parties to your case. That agreement will become the final order of your case.
If mediation is unsuccessful, then a trial will be had to determine the outcome of your case. It typically occurs one year from when your child was removed from your home. Your child has now been living away from you for a year, and the court wants to either have your child returned to you or placed into a permanent residence outside your home.
All evidence must be presented to the judge at this hearing, and witness testimony will be heard. Have you shown the ability to follow the safety plan? Are you going to be able to act as a safe parent moving forward? What is in your child's best interests will be the guiding principle behind any decisions made by the judge.
Keep in mind trials can be very long, so you should talk to your attorney to get an expected length of time for the trial. If you need to take off time from work or arrange for child care, the time to do so is before the trial rather than making phone calls from outside the courtroom.
The primary outcomes of a trial are a reunion with your child where he is returned to your home, conservatorship rights being awarded to CPS or a relative permanently, or outright termination of your parental rights.
Frequently asked questions- the subject of tomorrow's blog post.
Now that we have gone over the court process behind a CPS case tomorrow, we can fill in the gaps with answers to questions that may not have been answered to this point. If you have questions that cannot wait for tomorrow's answers, please get in touch with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, today. We can set up a free-of-charge consultation for you with one of our licensed family law attorneys. Our office represents clients across southeast Texas, and we would be honored to do the same for you and your family.