Category Archives: Discipline

When is a child considered a dependent?

Sometimes  people find themselves asking “what is a dependent child?” Many things to come to mind. Whether it be drugs, dependent on their parents, etc. However, there is a different kind of dependency that many people don’t understand.

This post will help explain and clear up what dependency is in the eyes of the law and how a family law attorney may be able to help you.

A Child who is found to be dependent is a child who:

  • has been found by a judge to be abandoned, abused or neglected by his parents or legal custodians.
  • has been surrendered to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) or a licensed child placing agency for purposes of adoption
  • has been voluntarily placed with a licensed child caring agency, an adult relative or DCF after the parents or legal custodians have failed to substantially comply with their case plan
  • has no parent or legal custodians capable of providing supervision
  • is at substantial risk of imminent abuse, abandonment, or neglect by the parents or legal custodians

So what are the differences between abandonment, abuse and neglect?

Just like with the word dependency, abandonment in the English language is a word with many meanings. When it comes to cases of dependency, abandonment is where the parent, legal custodian or caregiver has made no significant contribution to the child’s care and maintenance or failed to establish or maintain a substantial and positive relationship with the child or both.  But what does the law consider a substantial and positive relationship? A substantial and positive relationship, in many cases, is frequent contact. There may be regular contact with the child through frequent and regular communication and through the exercise of parental rights and responsibilities.  This is a complicated area, which requires the family law attorney to know the details of the relationship between the parent, legal custodian or caregiver and the child.

Abuse is any willful act or threatened act that results in any physical, mental or sexual abuse, injury or harm that causes, or is likely, to cause the child’s physical, mental or emotional health to be significantly impaired.

So is corporal discipline considered to be abuse? Not necessarily. For disciplinary purposes, it is not always abuse if it does not result in harm to the child.

Florida Statute 39 contains the laws about dependency as well as delinquency. If you ever wonder what is considered abuse, this statute contains a list of acts that constitute “harm” in the eyes of the law.  It also gives a definition of “neglect.”

If you are ever faced with a DCF investigation, or if you are a relative of a child whom you are concerned might be the subject of abuse or neglect, contact an experienced family law attorney who has experience in the dependency area.

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