It’s not unheard of for divorcing couples to threaten each other with DCFS involvement. This is especially true in high conflict divorces. Though the idea of DCFS showing up on your doorstep may be unsettling, it’s important to understand their process and understand your rights. Although your spouse may attempt to alienate you from your children by getting DCFS involved, it’s important that you do not retaliate or allow your emotions to get the best of you. If DCFS opens an investigation against you, there’s a good chance it’s going to be invasive and inconvenient. Therefore, it’s important that you have the information you need to protect yourself and your rights.
What Is DCFS?
In Utah DCFS is the Division of Child and Family Services. Their mission, as stated on their website, is to “keep children safe from abuse and neglect and provide domestic violence services by working with communities and strengthening families.” Because of this, when DCFS receives reports of abuse, they may need to launch an investigation. If your ex is threatening to report you and your behavior to DCFS, it’s important that you accept this as a possibility. Although it is unlikely for DCFS to seek removal of a child from the home based on unsubstantiated claims, DCFS does have a reputation for making things difficult even for good or well-meaning parents who aren’t abusing or neglecting their children.
Interacting with DCFS
If DCFS does show up at your house you do not have to speak with them or let them in your home. You may feel as though DCFS is on your side and you should let them in because you’re not hiding anything. Although you may not be hiding anything, DCFS isn’t necessarily on your side. DCFS is supposed to provide an objective report of the child’s home life; they aren’t there to advocate for your rights as a parent. If DCFS shows up at your house, it may be advisable to treat them as though they’re a police officer. You can be polite and courteous to them but, unless they have a court order, you do not have to allow them to enter your home, or answer their questions.
Will DCFS Remove the Kids?
A lot of people fear that DCFS will immediately remove their children from the home if they do not cooperate with the investigation from the start. Though it’s not possible to speak for every case, you would likely have notice if DCFS was going to try and remove your children from your custody or care. In most cases, DCFS will not just show up and take the children without a court order. Court proceedings will not be initiated unless DCFS determines that the allegations and evidence is sufficient enough to place a child under a threat of harm in a parent’s care from either abuse or neglect. If they believe that is the case the State will file a petition with the court. You should receive notice of any court proceeding, including a hearing, before the court grants the State’s request to remove a child from their parents and issue such an order. This type of hearing is called a shelter hearing and some notice must be provided.
When False Allegations Affect You
If your ex has made false allegations about you to DCFS, getting legal advice for your unique situation is imperative. It isn’t possible to prevent your ex from maliciously reporting you to DCFS; the division was created with the intention to protect all children from any possible harm. So the best thing you can do is prepare yourself for the possibility of an investigation. A family law attorney may be able to help you prepare for a DCFS investigation by informing you of your rights and walking you through the process. A family law attorney can also help you understand which behaviors DCFS may view as problematic and help you understand how to gather evidence to support your position.
When Your Child Is Being Abused
If you have concerns that your child may be experiencing abuse, you should have your child evaluated by a qualified and objective third party, ideally a doctor or mental health professional. It can be difficult for parents to remain objective, especially during and after a high-conflict divorce. Having an unbiased opinion may benefit you. Medical professionals such as doctors and psychologists are mandatory reporters. If they suspect abuse, they are legally obligated to report it. If there is sufficient evidence, in addition to making a report to DCFS, there are other legal remedies available to protect your child from the abuse or neglect of the other parent. These remedies generally include a child protective order or temporary restraining order.
Protect Your Legal Rights
If your ex is making false allegations against you, an important part of protecting your rights is having legal representation. After a certain point, all the unsubstantiated allegations will begin to weigh on your ex’s credibility. If your ex’s actions are egregious enough, you may be able to file a motion for sanctions or other relief in the custody case. Going through divorce or custody proceedings is difficult enough without conflict; the last thing you need is a spouse escalating the conflict. At CoilLaw, our attorneys are experts in high-conflict divorces; we’re here to help you advocate for your rights even in the most stressful situations. If you know you need legal representation in your divorce, contact CoilLaw today.