How to Navigate the Court Process

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Children/youth who have been placed by the county department of human/social services (due to abuse/neglect, abandonment or imminent danger) are involved in a dependency proceeding in district court, or for Denver County, it is juvenile court. This is a civil proceeding. Children under the age of six are provided expedited procedures through the court process to assure their developmental needs for permanency are met.

A temporary custody hearing must be held within 48 to 72 hours of the placement of the child/youth in out-of-home care for the court to decide if the child/youth will remain in placement on a temporary basis. The facts of the case and the basis for placement of the child/youth are presented by the county department. The judge determines whether the child/youth should remain in out-of-home care, and whether the county department provided “reasonable efforts” to maintain the child/youth in the parental home. If the judge decides that placement is unnecessary, the child/youth is returned to the parents’ home the same day. If the child/youth remains in placement, the judge will advise the birth parents that they may retain an attorney, or if they cannot afford one, the court can appoint an attorney (based on parental income). The court will also order the parent to identify relatives who are suitable to care for the child. The child/youth is appointed a guardian-ad-litem (GAL), who is an attorney representing the best interests of the child/youth. It is part of the GAL’s job to meet with their client. Caregivers have a right to know who the GAL is and to communicate with him/her. The attorney representing the county department is ordered to file a Dependency and Neglect (D&N) petition on behalf of the child/youth. This is the legal action that will initiate the following process.

At the adjudication, the court makes a determination whether or not the child/youth is “dependent and neglected.” The adjudicatory hearing must be held within 60 days from filing of the D&N petition, if the child is under 6 years of age (and any siblings). If the child/youth is 6 years and older, the court has up to 90 days to adjudicate. If the court finds the child/youth to be “dependent and neglected,” the child/youth remains in the legal custody of the county department and remains in placement.

At the dispositional hearing the court determines the necessary steps parents and the county department must take in order for the child to return home safely. These steps are outlined in the Family Services Plan (FSP-treatment plan) which is completed by the county department in consultation with the parents and caregivers. The dispositional hearing must be held within 45 days of adjudication. If a child is under age 6, the hearing must be held within 30 days of adjudication. If it is possible, the adjudication and dispositional hearings are held at the same time.

At the court review hearing, the judge determines if the parents are in compliance with the treatment plan, if “reasonable efforts” are being made by the county department to reunite the family, and whether there are any other matters that relate to the best interest of the child/youth. A court review hearing must be held within 90 days of the dispositional hearing for any children/youth who are placed out of the home, and every six months thereafter. 

At the permanency hearing, the court must determine whether the original placement goal (reunification) for the child/youth continues to be appropriate and determine whether “reasonable efforts” to find a safe and permanent home for the child/youth have been made. If the child/youth remains in out-of-home placement, the court must hold a permanency hearing no later than 12 months after entering out-of-home care. If the child/youth is under the age of 6 years, the permanency hearing must be held no later than 3 months after the disposition, which should be 6 months or less from the date the child/youth was placed in foster care.

When the child/youth cannot be returned home, the court may order the county department to show cause why it should not file a motion to terminate the parent-child legal relationship.  Possible causes are called compelling reasons and include: 

  • The parents have maintained regular consistent contact with the child/youth, and it is not in the best interest of the child/youth to discontinue the relationship.
  • The youth is 12 years of age or older, objects to termination, and will not consent to adoption.
  • The foster parents of the child/youth are unable to adopt due to exceptional circumstances but are willing to provide a permanent home for the child/youth, and removal from that home would be detrimental to the child/youth.
  • The criteria of the termination statute have not yet been met. 
  • Special circumstances resulting in the best interest of the child/youth not to terminate the parent-child legal relationship.

If there are no compelling reasons for not filing a motion to terminate the parent-child legal relationship, they will file such a motion, and the judge will set the date for a trial to hear the case. 

Once the court terminates the parent-child legal relationship, the birth parents have 45 days to appeal. If the parents’ attorney files an appeal, the adoptive parents must wait until the appeal process is concluded before they can file a motion to adopt. More information on adoption and termination of parental rights can be found in the Colorado Revised Statutes, Title 19, Article 5.  

If the child/youth was placed into your care by the biological parents, you as the caregiver will need to petition the district court for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities (Colorado’s term for permanent custody), however it is recommended that an attorney is consulted and/or retained to assist because the legal process is quite complicated. The forms and instructions for filing a petition for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities can be found at under the Domestic/Family category.

Katie Facchinello - CDHS,
Sep 7, 2015, 12:01 PM