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Tell your lawyer how to get in touch with people who would be witnesses for you. At the hearing, let your lawyer do all the talking. If you want to speak, first talk over what you want to say with your lawyer. As much as you may want to speak out in court, things you say without checking with your lawyer might hurt your case. You must appear in court each time on the date and at the time set.

If you are the Petitioner you filed a petition and you fail to appear as ordered, the judge may dismiss your petition without further hearings. If you are the Respondent a petition was filed against you and you fail to appear as ordered, the judge may take your default and grant the petition without further hearings. Sometimes the court can have people arrested if they do not come to court when they are told.

On the day of your court hearing, make sure you are on time.


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If for any reason you cannot make it, let your lawyer know in plenty of time so that he or she can ask the court to set the case for another day. If you have lost the information about your court date, call your lawyer or call the Family Court Clerk's Office. If you do not know where to go in the courthouse on your hearing date, ask at the security or information desk. Trial in Family Court may consist of one or two steps.

Custody, visitation, paternity or support cases are decided in one step - the fact-finding hearing. Cases involving family offenses, Persons in Need of Supervision PINS , Juvenile Delinquency JD , abuse, neglect or permanent neglect are decided in two steps - the fact-finding hearing is held first and the dispositional hearing is the second step. There is no jury in Family Court; the judge conducts all hearings. At the fact-finding hearing, the judge will hear all of the important facts evidence and determine what has been proved. If the facts are not proved, the case will be dismissed.

This means that the case is finished. Sometimes the case is withdrawn, which means that the person or agency who wanted the case heard in Family Court decides not to go on with it. If the facts are proved in custody, visitation, paternity or support cases, the judge will also decide what relief to grant as part of the fact-finding hearing. If the facts are proved in matters involving family offenses, abuse, neglect or permanent neglect, the case moves into the second step of the hearing process, the dispositional hearing.

If a judge decides that the things said in the petition are true are proved and there is a legal remedy, then a dispositional hearing will be held. The dispositional hearing will start immediately after the fact-finding hearing ends or will be scheduled on another day. At the dispositional hearing, the judge decides what should be done about the allegations proved in the fact-finding hearing.

District judge (magistrates’ courts)

If you believe the court's final decision and order is legally incorrect, you may want to appeal. This means that a higher court will review the decision of the Family Court. Ask your lawyer about this right. If you want to appeal, tell your lawyer, who can tell the court that you want to appeal your case.

A new lawyer may be assigned to your case if you cannot afford to pay for one. You should talk over with your lawyer whether or not the case should be appealed. A notice that you want to appeal must be filed within thirty 30 days after the judge's decision on your case is served on all the parties or their attorneys.

If the Notice of Appeal is not filed within the thirty 30 day time-limit, you will lose your right to appeal. Child abuse and neglect petitions may charge that the parent, guardian or a person legally responsible for a child has neglected or abuse the child. Neglect and abuse may include causing emotional or physical harm or risk of harm to the child. It may also include failing to protect a child from harm caused by other people. The charge of abuse or neglect must be proven at a fact-finding hearing held in Family Court.

If the case is not proved, the child must be returned to the parent or guardian. If the court finds that abuse or neglect occurred, it may issue an order requiring the removal of the child from the home for a period of up to twelve months. The order may also direct the parent or guardian to participate in programs and services designed to help eliminate the problems that caused the abuse or neglect.

At the end of twelve months, the child may be returned home, the Department of Social Services may ask for an extension of the child's placement or the Department of Social Services may file a petition to terminate parental rights see "Permanent Neglect" , below. A child may also be removed from the home before a petition is filed.

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This may happen when a child is in a situation that is a danger to the child's life or health. If a child is removed from the home before a petition is filed, the parent must be notified immediately. The parent or guardian of the child may request an expedited court hearing, called a Return of Child hearing, to decide whether the child should be returned to the home. Sometimes a child is removed from a home with the permission of the parent or guardian.

Unless the parent or guardian has signed a paper allowing removal, the party has a right to a hearing on the child's removal from home. Having custody of a child means that a person is legally responsible for the care of the child.

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Visitation rights are sometimes given by the court to people who no longer have custody of their child, but have the court's permission to see the child at certain times. The judge, after hearing all sides of the case, will decide who should have custody of the child, and sign an official court paper called a custody order.

The judge may also sign an order of visitation, which is an official court paper saying that the person who has custody must allow another person to visit the child under certain circumstances. A family offense petition may claim that a person hurt or threatened a member of his or her family or household. After the petition is filed, a judge may sign an official court paper called a Temporary Order of Protection.

This orders the person charged to immediately stop harming or threatening the family or household member and may even order a family member to be removed from the home.

The rules of evidence do not apply

The Temporary Order of Protection remains in effect for 90 days or until the court makes another order, whichever comes first. A family offense petition follows the same steps as discussed above: Initial appearance, fact-finding hearing and dispositional hearing. If the allegations of the petition are proved at the fact-finding hearing, the judge may consider different alternatives at the dispositional hearing when determining what should be done. A Permanent Order of Protection remains in effect for a year and violation of its terms may result in the court ordering a jail sentence of up to six months.

Introduction to the Magistrates Court : Bryan Gibson :

A juvenile delinquent is a person between the ages of 7 and 16 who commits an act that would be a crime a misdemeanor or felony if it were done by an adult. A 13, 14, or 15 year old who commits certain serious, violent acts may be treated as an adult in a criminal court or the criminal court may remove the case back to Family Court. In these serious cases where the actions are called designated felony acts, the District Attorney's Office will be the agency who presents the case against the juvenile.

If the case will be heard in Family Court, a date and a time will be set for an Initial Appearance. Skip to main content. Email Follow these Steps to email a friend or colleague a link to this information. PDF - 1, KB. This factsheet summarizes State laws that mandate the type and frequency of court hearings that must be held to review the status of children placed in out-of-home care.

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Table of Contents Introduction Schedule of court hearings Who may be present at the hearings Determinations made at the hearings Permanency options Summaries of State laws. Understanding Child Welfare and the Courts.

While every attempt has been made to be as complete as possible, additional information on these topics may be in other sections of a State's code as well as agency regulations, case law, and informal practices and procedures. The handbook avoids jargon and complexity to provide an accessible reference point for all people interested in how decisions are arrived at in this court. The three authors are all serving justices' clerks responsible for the administration of family proceedings courts and experienced in such matters as giving directions to the parties as part of their day-to-day responsibilities and training magistrates and advising them on all aspects of this subject.

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