I represent many people including children in child abuse and neglect cases. These cases have increased dramatically in recent years and the television news and newspapers publicize many of these cases. Because these cases are very unique in terms of the law and rules governing them, most people simply are not familiar with the nuances of the law including most lawyers.
The custody hearing which is the first legal proceeding held at the initiation of the abuse and neglect case. This hearing must be held within ten days of CYFD filing an ex parte order and taking a child or children into custody. The hearing is designed to advise respondent parents and caregivers of their legal rights and further to determine whether CYFD had probable cause to take custody of the children.
This last point is very important because many people including attorneys misunderstand this and believe the hearing is to determine whether probable cause exists to continue with the adjudication of the respondents. The law covering this is Section 32A-4-18(A) through 18(C) NMSA 1978.
These hearings are closed to the public and typically respondent parents, their attorneys, respondent caregivers if any, the Children's Court Attorney and witnesses are the only people allowed to appear before the Court.
The Court must advise the respondents of their rights which include: notice of the allegation(s) contained in the Petition; the right to an adjudicatory hearing on the allegations contained in the Petition; the right to an attorney; lastly the possible consequences of the process including potential termination of parental rights.
The law requires that CYFD make reasonable efforts to reunify the family if possible. This includes facilitating visits between parents and children if the Court determines that probable cause exists and CYFD should continue to have custody of the kids.
The Rules of Evidence do not apply in these hearings! This can be challenging in practical terms and esoterically. Realistically this means that "hearsay" evidence and non expert testimony comes in as well as other evidence which often times would be inadmissible in an actual civil trial.
The guiding principal in these hearings and in just about all legal custody matters is what is in the best interests of the child. This standard is more elusive than quantified.
For more information, contact me.