Dependency Court (DCF Court) vs Criminal Court in Okaloosa County

What is the difference between the criminal and civil court systems in Child Abuse or Child Neglect Cases?

Because of my past experience in prosecuting child abuse and child neglect cases, I have a special understanding of how the system works. In Florida, there are two different types of legal establishments that deal with these types of charges. And depending on your individual case, you could be dealing with either court system, or possibly both at the same time.

Dependency Court

It is generally handled in Family Court with Family Law Judges and involves the governmental agency known as the Florida Department of Children and Families. (Although some still refer to them as Health and Human Services.) This agency is tasked with protecting children through governmental and court intervention and they have the power to remove children from the custody of their parents or guardians and place them in shelter care or foster care as wards of the State.

Most of the time the removals are temporary, but can still last for not just a couple weeks, but several months. In order to get your children back, you either have to win at trial; or work through a parenting case plan and take classes until such time as the social worker, guardian ad litem, and/or the Dependency Court Judge agree that your children can return home.

Criminal Court

The Criminal Court becomes involved when law enforcement conducts an arrest for the criminal charges of: Child Abuse, Child Neglect, Contributing to the Delinquency or Dependency of a Minor, or a related offense, a defendant faces potential prison, jail, or probation. Mostly charged as felonies, these offenses are extremely serious in nature and could have disastrous consequences for you and your family.

Criminal charges can occur during a civil prosecution in Dependency Court. Don’t assume that your case will stay in one court system. A criminal complaint could be filed by a third party in order to get legal leverage in a Divorce or Custody Proceeding, or to put more pressure on the parents during the litigation of the Dependency case.

If you reside in Okaloosa County and need help with a criminal charge where you will have to appear in Dependency Court (DCF Court) or Criminal Court, give me a call at (850) 362-6655 for a free consultation.