When Child Protective Services Comes Knocking: What Happens Now?

If you are going through a divorce or child custody action and child protective services “CPS” becomes involved, there are several things you should know and do. First, let your divorce lawyer know that CPS has become involved. Ask your lawyer to be present for any interviews you may be asked to have with CPS and ask your lawyer to help you fill out any forms they may request to insure that CPS is getting accurate, complete and relevant information about you and your children.

The caseworker assigned to the job may interview your children. There is an interview protocol that they should follow. Make sure your lawyer knows about the protocol, which is posted on the Department of Human Services website. A poorly conducted interview of the children can do a great deal of damage in your custody proceeding. Both parents may also be interviewed, as well as collateral sources. Home visits may also take place.

After conducting the investigation, the caseworker will determine whether the matter warrants the filing of a petition in the juvenile court as either an abuse-and-neglect case or a termination-of-parental-rights case. Most of the time, if there is a divorce ongoing and custody is a hotly contested issue, the investigation will not result in a positive finding of abuse or neglect. CPS caseworkers are well-aware that parents often try to involve them in their custody disputes in hopes of gaining an upper hand in a custody battle. If it is determined that this is what is going on, the parent who called CPS or caused CPS to be called, is at serious risk of losing legal custody of the children. Why? Because false allegations of child abuse or neglect are considered by the courts to be one of the most heinous things a parent can do to another parent and their children, and because the Child Custody Act requires the court to look favorably upon parents who foster a relationship between the other parent and the children. Before calling CPS or asking someone else to call CPS, be absolutely certain that the children are at substantial risk of physical or emotional harm and that it can be proven with objective, admissible evidence.

If CPS makes a positive finding of abuse or neglect and files a petition in the juvenile court, the petition will be filed against both parents, and the custody case will be delayed while the state obtains necessary services for the children and/or parent(s). During this time, the children will likely be placed in foster care under the court’s emergency jurisdiction. If this happens, make sure that CPS knows your telephone number and your lawyer’s telephone number so that you can be notified of the first and subsequent court proceedings. A preliminary inquiry will be held and each parent will be offered a public defender because these are quasi-criminal proceedings. Each parent will be asked to admit the allegations in the state’s petition. If a parent is unwilling to do so, he or she is entitled to a trial.

During the juvenile court proceedings, the judge who was handling the custody matter will likely relinquish jurisdiction over the family to the juvenile court judge. In Michigan, every family is statutorily entitled to have only one judge, so that different judges are not making conflicting decisions. For example, if there is a PPO involved in your case, the same judge should be handling the PPO proceeding, the divorce proceeding, and the juvenile proceeding. Any orders issued in the juvenile proceeding supersede any custody orders that were previously issued in the divorce proceeding until the juvenile proceeding is resolved. The custody case may or may not go back to the custody judge after the juvenile proceedings are resolved, depending upon the particular venue and judges involved in the matter.

It is important to remember that, during CPS proceedings, the goal of the court is to get help for the children and the parents so that they can be reunited and the children can live safely with at least one parent. While it may be tempting to argue that state services are unnecessary because you are an exemplary parent, it is possible that your children would benefit from these services even if you are not doing anything wrong as a parent. Make sure you gather all of the information and consider all of your options before deciding with your lawyer how to proceed.

If you are going through a divorce or child custody action and child protective services have become involved, contact our Ann Arbor family law attorneys today.