Your kid has been taken. You want him back and of course you want that yesterday. Given that children are involved this should be enough of an “emergency” for the courts to move fast, you’d think. You may even look up some of the Tennessee Rules of Juvenile Procedure or statutes and see time deadlines. Preliminary hearing within 72 hours of removal. Adjudication within 30 days of removal etc. And so you’d think this should move pretty fast and you are right that it SHOULD.
And then reality rears its ugly head. At the preliminary you ask for an attorney. The court appoints one and continues the preliminary. Of course that has to be scheduled with at least three attorneys in mind (yours, the State’s and the Guardian ad Litem). Scheduling attorneys is like herding cats so if you’re lucky it might be scheduled within a month of the first hearing. That pushes the adjudication back and there are all kinds of other things that can delay the adjudication so you might have an adjudication anywhere from 2 months out to a year or so.
All the while your kid is in State’s custody. It IS extremely frustrating (sometimes even for your attorney) but here are a few suggestions on how to deal with it.
First, realize that if you are going to effectively “fight for your kid” that may take time. Yes the Rule says an adjudication within 30 days but it also includes an exception that the adjudication can be continued (rescheduled for later) for “good cause shown”. Some examples include the State is seeking medical records for proof or to depose someone or even one of the attorneys or parties did not show up. Your attorney also needs time to gather evidence, talk to witnesses etc. And then there is what we lawyers call the “vagaries of the court docket”. It is also known as there are a ton of cases and even if I attempt to set something “as soon as possible” often that is months away. You might as well adopt the mindset that this is going to take awhile.
Second, complaints about the court time frame are for your attorney NOT THE CASEWORKER. The caseworker has virtually no control over when court hearings are scheduled and in complaining to the caseworker you will alienate the caseworker (make them like you less) and often say stupid things that they will then use against you. Notice I said “complaints”. Often the caseworker may be the person who first tells you about a court date. And that is fine although you should then contact your attorney and make sure they are aware of the date. But don’t complain to the caseworker about the court date. Don’t go on some diatribe about how they are violating your rights etc.
Third, use the time wisely. For example, be visiting your kid as much as possible. It is the right thing to do and it even benefits your case. Talk to your lawyer. There will almost certainly be evidence you can be getting yourself like medical and/or school records, your check stubs, proof of housing etc. There are probably also things you can do to help your case. If you have a permanency plan you can be doing many of those requirements and getting the documentation to your lawyer. At the adjudication your lawyer can ask the court to return the child even if the court finds the allegations to be true. In such as case the lawyer argues to the court, “my client has remedied the conditions which led to removal”. I have used that argument to get children returned on the day of the adjudication. But it does NOT work if the parent hasn’t done anything. So talk to your lawyer. Depending on your facts this may be a good strategy to get your kid back but it is going to require action on YOUR PART.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and, even though your kid was taken quickly, chances are they will not be returned nearly that quick. If you are going to fight, contact your attorney early, do what they say and realize that you are in it for the “long haul”.