How A DCFS Investigation Can Impact Your Parenting Time and Decision-Making Responsibility

Posted on in Divorce

DCFS InvestigationDivorce is not only a legal process, but it is also an emotional process. At times, the divorce process can get extremely hectic and litigious between spouses, especially when they have different parenting styles and disagree on how to raise their children. Sometimes, this tension is enough to create doubt that the other parent is properly caring for the children or result in allegations regarding the same. In severe instances, parents, teachers, neighbors, or family members may even contact the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) if they believe the children may be in danger. For parents who are going through a divorce, it is important to understand how DCFS investigations work and how they may impact your divorce case.

In Illinois, DCFS is responsible for investigating any reports of possible child abuse and neglect. These investigations typically take 60 days to complete. Its goal is to protect the health, safety, and best interests of a child in situations where that child may be vulnerable to abuse or neglect. In gathering evidence during their investigation, a DCFS investigator will often visit the family home, meet with the child and the parents, and meet with any other individuals living in the home. The investigator will also make contact with the person who made the initial report, although that person’s identity will remain anonymous.

DCFS findings of abuse or neglect can be used as evidence in a divorce case against the other parent for purposes of determining parenting time and parental responsibilities. For that reason, DCFS investigations should be taken very seriously when you are going through a divorce. If the investigation is “unfounded,” that means that DCFS did not find evidence of abuse or neglect, and the case will be closed. An “unfounded” DCFS report will typically have little to no impact on your ability to have parenting time or make decisions for your children. However, if abuse or neglect is found, the accused parent is then labeled as “indicated.” An “indicated” finding means that DCFS has concluded there is credible evidence that a child has been abused or neglected.

When there is an “indicated” finding, DCFS has the ability to implement safety plans which may include, for example, removing a parent from the home and/or ordering supervised visits. A family law judge can do this as well. Depending on the severity of the DCFS case, you may be denied the ability to see your children altogether until you are able to demonstrate that you are no longer a threat to the children. In fact, DCFS has the ability to take immediate possession of a child if they believe there is an imminent threat of danger to the child.

A finding of “indicated” will undoubtedly have a negative impact on your claim for parenting time and decision-making responsibility during your divorce. This is because a court is required to decide what is in a child’s best interests when determining a parenting time schedule and decision-making responsibility between parents. A court can consider many factors when determining whether parenting time is in a child’s best interests, but the two most relevant factors for purposes of this article are (1) whether there has been physical violence or a threat of physical violence by a child’s parent directed against the child, and (2) the occurrence of abuse against the child or other member of the child’s household.

In family law cases, judges will often appoint a Guardian ad Litem to help resolve parenting issues related to the children. A Guardian ad Litem is an attorney who is specifically responsible for representing the best interests of the children. Therefore, a Guardian ad Litem is allowed to review and consider DCFS reports as well as speak with DCFS investigators when making their recommendations regarding parenting time or decision-making responsibility to the Judge.

Because of the significant impact an “indicated” finding can have on parental rights, some parents falsely report the other to DCFS as a way to limit their parenting time or decision-making responsibility for the children. DCFS reports are taken very seriously and should not be used as a method to settle squabbles between divorcing parents. If you believe you are the subject of a false DCFS report, you should immediately notify DCFS. DCFS can keep a record of the false report as well as notify the State’s Attorney in the county where the case is taking place. If a false report is made, you can also contact your local police department or the State’s Attorney yourself. If you are involved in family law litigation, you should immediately bring the false report to the attention of your attorney. He or she will then take the appropriate action to notify the judge and/or the Guardian ad Litem (if there is one appointed in your case), that you may be the victim of a false report. While it is not guaranteed that any legal action will be taken, and often times false reports do not result in legal action or penalties, it is a possibility if the false reports are frequent or egregious enough.

It is important to note that an individual who has been indicated may appeal the DCFS decision if they wish. However, you should work with an experienced attorney to help guide you through that process. If you have been notified by DCFS that you are suspected of child abuse, or if you have already been indicated by DCFS, please contact our office to discuss how the DCFS investigation may affect your divorce case. McSwain Nagle & Giese, P.C. is well versed in handling DCFS cases as well as DCFS reports which may affect your parenting time and decision-making ability.

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