Dependency action can have significant impact on child custody

This article looks at child dependency actions in Georgia and how they may impact custody.

In some situations, children may be removed from the home of their parents or guardians by Georgia's Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS). The decision to remove children from the care of their parents is not taken lightly and often happens when the child is suffering from abuse or neglect. If both parents have been deemed unfit to care for their child, then their parental rights may be terminated and other individuals may be able to apply for custody of the child. In some cases, grandparents and other relatives may be able to adopt the child, while in extreme situations the child may even be placed in the care of a non-relative.

Dependency actions

A child dependency action occurs when the DFCS takes a child who is believed to have been abused or neglected into custody. Such actions are meant to protect the physical, emotional, and mental well being of the child. Dependency actions are handled by the juvenile courts as opposed to family courts. According to the Georgia Juvenile Code, a child is considered to be dependent if he or she is suffering from abuse and neglect, in which case the protection of the court is necessary, has been illegally placed in care or adoption, or has no parent, guardian, or legal custodian.

While the DFCS is usually the party that initiates child dependency actions, other individuals, including grandparents or non-relatives who believe the child is suffering from abuse or neglect, can also petition for a child dependency action. A dependency action, however, cannot be initiated by one parent against the other if those parents are in the midst of divorce litigation. The reason for this limitation is to prevent a dependency action from being used as a weapon to unfairly gain custody of a child.

Finding a home

As the Georgia Bar Journal notes, when a child has been removed from the care of his or her parents, reestablishing a permanent family for the child becomes one of the court's main concerns. The DFCS will work with the parents to help create conditions that would allow for the child to be returned to his or her family. Unfortunately, in some cases it becomes impossible for a child to be safely returned to the parents.

When neither parent is able to care for his or her child, then the court will look elsewhere to find a permanent home for the child. In extreme cases, the parental rights of the parent may be terminated, which effectively severs the relationship between the child and the parents (although some parental responsibilities, such as providing child support, may remain). Generally speaking, the law favors placing the child in the care of relatives, such as grandparents. However, if that option is not available then non-relatives can also petition the court to provide permanent care for the child.

Family law

As the above article shows, family law is not only legally complex, but it has the potential to greatly impact the everyday lives of ordinary Georgians. Anybody who has a family law concern, such as grandparent rights or adoption, should contact a family law attorney as soon as possible for help with their case.