A dispositional hearing takes place toward the end of the legal process when an accusation of child abuse and neglect has been levied against the parents. It is the stage where a judge will decide what steps the parents must take after the hearing. The judge has several options to choose from in this ruling, including the final placement of the children as well as any treatment the parents must pursue to move forward. There is still an opportunity for parents and children to be reunited should the parents complete the court orders.
What Leads to a Dispositional Hearing?
There are several preliminary steps in the legal process before all parties arrive at the dispositional hearing. The hearing itself is a part of the process that the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) undertakes when it suspects that one or both parents have neglected or abused their children.
The DCPP will initiate an investigation into a potential child abuse or neglect case if the agency receives a report from a doctor, a teacher, a family member, or even a neighbor. These reports can be made anonymously, but the DCPP is obligated to investigate all of them.
If they find the accusations are warranted, then the process will move into the courts. There are several stages that the process will go through, including:
Order to Show Cause: In this stage, the DCPP presents the court with documents explaining the accusations against the parents. They will provide the parents with a court date to show up, and they may also suggest the children be removed from the home.
Preliminary Hearing: The judge will rule at this stage if the charges are justified. The judge will then rule on the status of the children and decide if the parents require any immediate treatment.
Discovery: Assuming the judge allows the case to move forward, during this stage, lawyers for both the DCPP as well as the defense will gather information and evidence for their respective cases.
Fact-Finding Hearing: This is essentially the trial. The DCPP will present evidence about the case, and there is the opportunity for the parents to offer their own defenses through evidence and witnesses. The DCPP must present evidence that the parents caused harm to their children. At the end of the hearing, the judge will decide if the parents are guilty of abuse and neglect. If so, the process moves to the dispositional hearing, which is the sentencing phase of the process.
How Do I Prepare for a Dispositional Hearing?
The judge will grant a certain amount of time between the fact-finding hearing and the dispositional hearing so that both sides can prepare. During this time, it is a good idea for defendants to meet with their lawyers to discuss strategies moving forward. They can figure out what sorts of treatments they might be willing to undergo or what circumstances they are willing to go through to eventually be reunited with their children. The lawyers can provide their clients with their legal options.
What Happens at the Dispositional Hearing?
Once both sides present their cases during the dispositional hearing, the judge will make a decision. The judge can rule that the children remain in foster care or that they return to their parents if certain requirements are met. The judge could order that the children live with other family members or decide that the children need a new living arrangement.
The judge will also decide what treatment or punishment is required of the parents. Many have certain unaddressed issues that might have led to the DCPP’s involvement in the first place. The judge may order that the parents undergo psychological treatment, therapy, or even substance abuse treatment. The judge could even require that the DCPP provides help.
How are the Parties Treated During the Hearing?
Both parties are treated fairly during a dispositional hearing. The DCPP does not get any preferential treatment, and they are held to the same standards they had during the fact-finding hearing. In addition, the DCPP must also follow any orders given to them by the court.
What if I Miss My Hearing?
If the defendants are unable to attend, the parents should work with their lawyers to schedule a date that they can make. Failing to appear could have severe consequences. The penalties could include the possibility of arrest, or the judge entertaining a default against the person. The default will mean that they will no longer be able to present a defense during the hearing.
What Happens After the Dispositional Hearing?
While the dispositional hearing occurs toward the end of the process, there are a few more hearings that take place so that the courts can determine the best course of action. They also allow all parties to check in on everyone to see if the current circumstances remain the ideal ones. The next two steps include the review hearing and the permanency hearing.
The review hearing takes place after the parents undergo whatever treatment was ordered during the dispositional hearing. It is here when a judge may rule that it is safe for the children to move back into the home with their parents.
If the case has been open for a year, then the DCPP will produce a plan to provide for a permanent solution for the children’s living arrangement at a permanency hearing. The parents have the right hear to offer an alternative plan. If the DCPP feels the home is not safe, they may legally sever parental rights.
What Should I Do if I am Facing Child Abuse Accusations?
If parents are facing child abuse and neglect accusations, they should immediately hire a lawyer. A lawyer will help with all of the necessary hearings. These cases are often complex, and a lawyer will be able to protect the rights of the parents. It is important to seek out legal assistance right away after allegations.
Cherry Hill DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Help Families with Dispositional Hearings
If you must attend a dispositional hearing, it is important that you have a strong lawyer by your side. Our Cherry Hill DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker protect parents against abuse and neglect allegations. Contact us online or call us at 856-795-9400 for an initial consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and Voorhees.