Juvenile Dependency Lawyers

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Following allegations that a child suffered abuse or neglect by a parent or caregiver, the Department of Child Services (DCS)  or another party can file a dependency petition to remove the child or children from the custody of their parents. The petition begins a complex series of steps that could ultimately result in the termination of parental rights if the allegations are substantiated.

The Valley Law Group and our experienced dependency attorneys represent parents who are wrongfully accused of child abuse and other mistreatment. Our skilled attorneys can help you protect your parental rights when they are called into question and keep the children in your life safe, healthy, and thriving.

How Does Dependency Law Work in Arizona?

In 2022, the Arizona Department of Child Safety’s child abuse hotline received 21,841 credible reports of child abuse that resulted in the filing of a report. Every allegation of child abuse should be taken very seriously, but parental rights should not be infringed without evidence and due process of law. Unfortunately, in some cases, parents have been wrongfully accused by DCF. It’s important to remember that this governmental agency is overwhelmed with cases and is capable of mishandling child abuse cases.

Conditions and situations that can lead to the filing of a dependency case include allegations that:

  • The child has been abused, abandoned, or neglected
  • The child lacks adequate medical services
  • The child is malnourished or living in poor living conditions

Following several court steps, a judge may find that terminating the parental rights of the parents is in the best interest of the child or children. Following the termination of parental rights, the children become wards of the state and are placed for adoption through the foster care system. Arizona’s dependency courts are courts of emergency jurisdiction. When a child is declared dependent, the courts are effectively ruling that the child is in need of care and oversight by the state of Arizona.

Dependency courts should be the last resort for extreme circumstances, but the court can intervene in cases where the child is not in imminent danger. This is where the services of a family law attorney experienced in juvenile dependency cases can prevent the unnecessary severance of parental rights.

Our juvenile dependency lawyers also represent relatives (often grandparents) of children who are in dependency court and have concerns for the welfare of their relatives.

AZ Child Dependency

What Are the Steps Involved in Dependency Court?

Filing a dependency petition brings a case to dependency court. The petition contains details regarding the allegations against the parents or a guardian. These allegations usually cite claims of abuse, neglect, or abandonment of the minor child. The court document is usually filed by DCF, but not always.

As the court process moves forward, the Arizona family court may leave the child with their current parents or guardian. In those cases, the court may order supervision or other services until the case is settled. The process will include these elements.

Preliminary Protective Conference

The pre-hearing conference facilitates issues like custody, visitation, and other relevant issues. This step can only occur once the minor child is found to be a dependent ward of the state. Parents may have legal counsel by this point. If not, the court appoints an attorney for indigent parents. A guardian ad litem is also court-appointed to represent the child.

Lawyers for the parents may dispute the removal of their children at this early stage. If the parents fail to appear at this early conference, their interests may not be taken into consideration.

Initial Hearing

Once the parent receives notification of the petition, the court will set a date for an initial hearing. At the hearing, the parents may deny or admit to the allegations listed on the petition. Denying the allegations sets the matter on track for trial.

The state must prove that the allegations described in the petition have merit. This must be demonstrated with a preponderance of evidence – that something is more likely than not. Following the initial hearing, the matter may be scheduled for resolution with the help of a mediator.


The state places a deadline of 90 days for the case to be adjudicated once the parent receives the petition. The state is represented by the Attorney General’s Office. The government has the burden of proof for proving that the minor child or children were abused, not cared for, or both by the parents or guardian. DCS workers are usually called as state witnesses. Any relatives of friends can be called to testify against the state.

Dependency Hearing in AZ

Since these cases are civil and not criminal, parents do not have a constitutional right under the Fifth Amendment to remain silent. Unless there are pending criminal charges related to the case, the parents must answer questions raised by the Attorney General. Both sides have the right to call witnesses.

Once evidence is presented and both sides have called witnesses to testify, the judge will make a ruling. If the state does not meet the burden of proof – that the allegations are more likely to be true than untrue – set out in the initial petition, the case will be dismissed. The children will be ordered to return to the custody of the parents if they are not already in their custody. If the judge finds that the allegations of abuse, neglect, or abandonment were substantiated by the AG’s office, then the judge will schedule a disposition hearing within 30 days of the trial.


At this final hearing, the judge will decide where the children will be placed and if a reunification plan is an option. At the disposition hearing, the judge will also notify both parents that they must fully comply with the court order.

The disposition ruling could include orders to participate in: .

  • Counseling
  • Drug tests
  • Mentorship programs
  • Visitation programs with their children
  • Programs to improve the home environment

The court will hold a report and review hearing within six months of the disposition hearing. If the children were placed on supervised visitation or removed from the parent’s home, the judge may allow them to return if both parents fulfill certain steps.

If the parents do not make progress towards being reunited with their children, meaning they do not comply with orders given during the disposition hearing, the state may move to sever the parental rights of the parents. At this point, the parents may lose all rights to their children.

Severance refers to the termination of a parent’s right to raise their children. The parent may be found to be unable to parent due to mental or physical illness. Documented cases of abuse could also serve as grounds for termination of parental rights.


Parents or guardians can appeal any final finding of severance or dependency. The appeal will be heard by the Court of Appeals. If there were errors of law or procedural irregularities, the trial court would be asked to reconsider its decision. The Court of Appeals does not adjudicate the merits of the case. Rather, it determines if there is sufficient evidence to require a new trial through a review of the court’s record.

What Happens During a DCS Investigation?

Before DCS files a petition for dependency, the government agency will conduct a thorough investigation. One or more DCS agents will gather information about the alleged incident of abuse, neglect, or abandonment and conduct interviews with witnesses.

As part of the investigation, DCS will gather information to assess the parents’ needs and strengths. The parents will be connected to supportive services if needed.

Information collected by DCS could include:

  • The child’s medical records
  • Information about the child’s development
  • Details about the home environment
  • Information about general parenting practices
  • Financial information from the parents

Prehearing Conference

Only 12% of children who are reported to DCS are removed from their homes. The majority of parents are given referrals to services. Before a decision is made to remove a child from a home, DCS conducts a meeting to go over the findings of the investigation. Parents are allowed to provide contact information for individuals who can speak to the welfare of the children. These could include babysitters, caregivers, neighbors, friends, and relatives.

How Can a Family Law Attorney Help Me in Court?

Fighting a large agency like DCS can be daunting without legal help from a family law attorney. Once you find yourself on DCS’s radar, fighting their allegations can become a difficult, uphill battle. Even though DCS is tasked with prioritizing the best interest of children, its agents can become fixated on presumptions about your home and parenting style.

If you receive a notice of petition tied to a dependency court case, you are likely confused and frustrated by the state’s actions. Uncertainty and despair can set in as you worry about the state taking your children away. At that point, protecting your parental rights requires experienced legal help.


Court-appointed attorneys are often spread thin, and they may not provide the legal representation that you deserve. Dependency attorneys understand the court process and how to file timely motions and responses that protect your parental rights. The burden of proving the allegations made against you falls on the state, but legal representation is needed to ensure that your rights are protected.

An experienced family law attorney will gather evidence that shows that the claims against you are not valid. Reunification may be your best option for ensuring that the state doesn’t take away your children. For example, anonymous reports are not sufficient on their own to justify the AG’s allegations. Evidence is required to establish dependency on your children, and your family law attorney will scrutinize any evidence brought by the state.

As part of your defense, your lawyer may recommend that you complete certain steps to demonstrate to the courts that you take your child or children’s welfare seriously. Here are a few common examples that can help you win your case.

Learn New Parenting Skills

Parenting, even under ideal circumstances, is never easy. Having DCS monitoring your every move can be stressful, and minor slip-ups can give DCS grounds for taking action against you. Learning new parenting skills may be a reasonable and appropriate step to show the courts that you are willing to take proactive steps in the best interests of your child.

Utilize Social Services

The State of Arizona and many nonprofits offer services that can help you in the areas of chemical dependency, financial planning, and other areas. Signing up and participating in these services could help resolve your case favorably.


If your child is removed from your home because DCS believes that you committed an act that resulted in the abuse, neglect, or abandonment of your child, the courts may order reunification with the child. This could include working with a therapist or counselor. Your family law attorney can work with the court to ensure that you comply with the reunification process.

Complete a Case Plan

The caseworker assigned to your child may find that you require new skills to parent properly. Your family law attorney can guide you through that process so that you are in compliance with the case plan.

Although these steps may initially seem time-consuming, preserving your parental rights should be the priority. The courts often want to see that certain steps are completed before closing the dependency case. Your family law attorney is here to help. Our law firm has helped many parents navigate complicated dependency cases with favorable outcomes.

If your case goes to trial, our lawyers will represent you in court. They will present evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and ensure that the court process honors your rights as a parent. A court trial is a complicated process, and representing yourself could lead to unintended mistakes. Parents can benefit greatly by relying on an experienced lawyer who understands the procedural steps of a dependency trial. If needed, our law firm can represent you during the appeal process.

Child Dependency in Arizona FAQs

What Is the Dependency Law in Arizona?

Dependency law in Arizona is the court process whereby one party petitions to make your child or children a ward of the state. Simply because DCS or another party brings this petition does not mean that you no longer have rights. Your dependency lawyer will fight the allegations and gather evidence that supports your rights and parenting goals.

What Does the Dependency of a Child or Juvenile Mean?
Dependency of a child is the legal term for when a court finds that a child is dependent on the state. This declaration can follow allegations of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. It is important to remember that no declaration by the court is final until due process is served. If the state does not find that a preponderance of evidence shows that you are an unfit parent, then the case will be dismissed.

At What Age Can a Child Decide Which Parent To Live With?

The age at which a child decides which parent to live with is 18. At that age, the child becomes a legal adult, and they are free to choose where they want to live. Until that age, or until proven unfit, both parents have the right to participate in raising the minor child.

The courts do make decisions regarding the primary residence of the child and may take the child’s wishes into consideration, but there is no age at which the court must accept the minor child’s decision. Your family law attorney can advocate for your interests to ensure that you have substantial visitation and other rights.

What Is the Court Process After a Petition Is Filed?

After the petition is filed, the court process for a dependency case begins with a preliminary hearing and then an initial hearing. Parents can deny or confirm the allegations. The courts have 90 days to adjudicate the case. During the 90 days, parents may be given instructions to participate in programs that address the child abuse, neglect, or abandonment allegations. During the final hearing, the AG’s office and the parents’ attorney will present evidence. The judge will decide whether to move forward with parental rights termination based on the evidence presented.

How Long Does DCS Have To Investigate a Case?

The Department of Child Safety (DCS) has 60 days to complete an investigation of child abuse or neglect. The 60-day deadline is mandated by Arizona statute. The case will be dropped if the deadline is missed. DCS may move forward with a petition for child dependency if there is sufficient evidence.

Schedule Your Dependency Law Consultation in Arizona Today

Any parent facing allegations of child abuse should take those allegations seriously. Even if you believe DCF has acted out of the bounds of its authority or has little evidence to back its claims, the consequences of losing a dependency case could be dire. The Valley Law Group is here to protect your parental rights. By strategically planning how to defend your rights and with an unfailing devotion to client service, our attorneys will fight any attempts to reduce or sever your parental rights.

Contact us today to start the process.

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Carmen Segura
Carmen Segura
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Wonderful experience knowledge and responsive. Elda and Jonathan were helpful and responsive to all my questions and concerns . I was going to so much stress Elda was great responding to my emails it never took more than 24 hours to get a respond from her. I highly recommend Elda and Jonathan to all my friends and family.
Catherine Dolan
Catherine Dolan
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Thank you Jon for helping me with my case and making me feel comfortable during the proceedings. I appreciate the guidance you provided and legal recommendations so that I could result in the best possible outcome for my situation. I would have been very lost without your help!
Hannah Ridinger
Hannah Ridinger
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I could not be happier with The Valley Law Group. My case was handled effectively and efficiently. I am very grateful for Cory Keith and the rest of the group. Thank you!
Dan Palmer
Dan Palmer
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Simply put, Ryan is outstanding! ! I’ve used his services exclusively for the last 6+ years on multiple custody and visitation cases. After having gone through three less than transparent attorneys before Ryan, it was incredibly refreshing when I found him. He’s courteous, responsive and the utmost professional. Best of all, I feel that I can trust his advice explicitly. A true rarity in this industry! Bottom line: I wouldn’t consider even having a conversation with another attorney!
John Law
John Law
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Ryan did a good job especially considering I didn't have an attorney most of my divorce. I would recommend him, but get him onboard at the beginning not the end.
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The experience and information that was given to me was of great value. Very professional and with a personal touch. I greatly appreciate all their help. Thank you
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