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Helping Keep Families Together And Assert Parental Rights In Blount County And East Tennessee

In rare and unfortunate cases of abuse and neglect, circumstances may arise where a child may need to be removed from their parents’ home. This often leads to suspension or even termination of parental rights, as set forth by Tennessee’s tough laws on child abuse and neglect. These matters are handled by the Department of Children’s Services (DCS), who typically bring forth a petition to terminate parental rights, or concerned family members or friends file a motion on their own.

The Maryville family law attorneys at Shepherd & Long understand the delicate matters involved with Tennessee’s DCS. Our lawyers have a long track record of solving Tennessee dependency and neglect matters and crises. We represent parents fighting to regain the rights to custody of their children, as well as families attempting to acquire guardianship of a minor child. Our goal is the best interests and well-being of your child. Let us help your family.

How does Tennessee determine neglect and dependency?

The Department of Children’s Services considers a child dependent and neglected in the following circumstances.

  • If the parent abandons or abuses the child
  • If the parent allows another person to mistreat or abuse the child
  • If the parent fails to provide necessary medical treatment or hospital care
  • If the parent unlawfully keeps the child out of school
  • If the child is living in an unsafe or unhealthy environment
  • If the child has run away from home or is homeless
  • If the child has no parents or guardians
  • If the parents are unfit to care for the child

The court may find other reasons circumstances that would lead to dependency and neglect. However, if any of these conditions exist, the court may find it in the child’s best interest to remove the child from the home and transfer custody to another adult.

How does a child neglect and dependency case work?

A DCS case begins when a parent(s) is accused of abusing or neglecting their child. Usually this occurs when someone (often a family member or neighbor) suspects the abuse, and reports it to the Tennessee DCS or files a petition with the court on their own. Once this happens, Social Services begins an investigation.

A trained response worker from Social Services will visit the parent’s home to determine if the child is unsafe or in danger. If they are, the child will be removed from the parent’s custody immediately. If Social Services does not believe the child is in imminent danger but believes the matter should be heard by the court, they’ll allow the petition to move forward.

Next, the court will hold several hearings, the first of which will decide with whom the child will live until a final decision is made. During the various hearings, the court will also make decisions on whether the child was abused or neglected, and make a plan regarding custody of the child.

How do Tennessee courts determine who will be the guardian of my child?

When a child is determined to be dependent and neglected, the court can appoint a qualified individual as a permanent guardian. This person is typically any adult with a close and significant relationship with the child. If the child is state custody, the court consults with DCS on appointing a guardian. If the child is in the custody of relatives or non-relatives, they may seek to be appointed as the child’s permanent guardian.

The court must consider a variety of factors, however, before appointing any guardian. These factors include ensuring the guardian is:

  • Able to provide the child with a stable and permanent home
  • Clear about the financial obligations of being a permanent guardian
  • Committed to raising the child until they are 18 years old
  • Mentally, physically, and financially sound
  • Willing to comply with all court orders regarding parental contact, visitation, and providing information about the child’s progress

Our Maryville DCS attorneys can answer any questions you may have about the process.

How do I fight a DCS removal in Tennessee?

If a DCS investigation finds that abuse has occurs and removes your children from your custody, you do have rights. Once DCS determines this, they must provide you with due process by notification in writing. You must act quickly – you have only 10 business days to request a formal DCS review. Once you receive notice your request for review has been accepted, you must provide additional information within 30 days. Another option for DCS, is to get a Court Order that authorizes emergency removal of the child. If this happens, you must act even quicker.

If the DCS still upholds their determination, they must provide you with a chance to appeal, which you must request within 10 business days. After requesting an appeal, you’ll receive more information and a notice or your hearing date in the mail. Finally, you and your attorney can present your case. Consulting with the Maryville attorneys at Shepherd & Long can help you go into your hearing prepared and confident.

Can the Department of Children’s Services take away my kids for a messy house?

Clients and potential clients ask us this question often. It might seem like the answer is “no,” but the actual answer is “it depends.” The state of Tennessee is not going to take your children away if there are a few dirty dishes in the sink and some dust bunnies in the corner. However, if a child is living in squalid conditions that can impact their health – homes with feces and food on the floor, unsanitary conditions, no running water, insect or animal infestations – DCS may remove a child for their own safety.

How A Maryville DCS Removal Attorney Can Help

Tennessee law requires individuals who suspect child abuse or neglect to report it. What this means is that anyone your child encounters on a regular basis may have reported you – a teacher, neighbor, doctor, clergy, or another family member. In these types of cases, emotions can get heated and an experienced lawyer can help. The attorneys at Shepherd & Long provide:

  • Detailed consideration of your situation, including assessing DCS reports and visits, and listening to everything you know about the allegations against you
  • Compassion and understanding that you are in a difficult situation and that your children are your everything
  • Investigation as to whether you may have been mistakenly or improperly accused, or reported by someone with questionable motives
  • Guidance on proactive measures to take if you are dealing with anger management or substance abuse issues

As soon as you know or feel you may be investigated by the DCS, you should consult with an East Tennessee lawyer as soon as possible for the best chance of retaining custody of your children.

Maryville DCS Attorneys Advocating For You

Child dependency and neglect proceedings can lead to loss of custody of your own children. The lawyers at Shepherd & Long understand how to work with the Tennessee DCS and can help you work toward a positive outcome for you and your family. For more information, or to schedule a consultation, call us at 865-383-3118 or fill out our contact form. We regularly represent clients in Madisonville, Oak Ridge, Lenoir City and throughout East Tennessee.