Even though it was years ago, I can still remember the feeling when I left the courtroom that day.  The air had been taken completely out of me.  I couldn’t believe what had just happened.  Was that really a court of law I had just been in?  It was supposed to be but what had just happened was more like a robbery.  My client?  Well, she was devastated.  This was an early hearing in the process so we still had plenty of time to fight.  But the tone had clearly been set.

We had just finished in DHS/CPS court, and you know what I am talking about if you have been there.  This was about my fifth DHS/CPS case and to be honest I was about to be finished with these cases altogether.  I had noticed an obvious pattern - frustration for the client and me was the norm.  And DHS/CPS got whatever they wanted.  Discovery rules didn’t seem to apply.  Everything, and I mean everything, was stacked in the favor of DHS/CPS.  The judge believed everything the State had to say and nothing my client had to say.  Worse, the judge cut us off anytime we tried to introduce helpful evidence.  In a word, we felt railroaded.  This is not to mention how bad it was for the poor souls who were there pro se (without an attorney and representing themselves).

DHS/CPS court is relentless.  It drags on for months sometimes years.  There are staffings that you have to attend; hearings that you have to attend; home inspections that you have to attend; drug tests you have to take – and then take again; classes you have to attend; counseling you have to attend.  The list is exhausting.  If your children are in DHS/CPS custody they may not even be living in the same city as you.  You might have to travel across the state just to get visitation.  How in the world is a hard-working parent supposed to keep a steady job and get all of this stuff completed?

I decided that day after court that if I was going to keep taking these cases then we had to figure out how to win them.  These cases are a different breed and most attorneys don’t want anything to do with them.  We were going to have to have a completely different approach and be just as relentless as the system if we were going to stand a chance.

That decision that day has made all the difference.  We still have our challenges in DHS/CPS court, but now we know how to handle them – and win them.  And we can do the same for you.  So if you’re tired of trying to fight your case on your own, or you’re just getting started, give us a call.  We know the struggle…and we’re ready to help you put your family back together.

Cross Examination

CPS & DHS Stories

How Families Can Avoid a Halloween Nightmare...

Halloween is the unofficial start to the holiday season and it is often overlooked when divorcing parents are making visitation arrangements, because most are focused on the big ones like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Parents get honed in on who gets the kids for Christmas morning and Thanksgiving dinner, but often aren’t prepared for where the kids are going to trick or treat, what type of costume is acceptable or a curfew for older children. To avoid a horror story consider the following:   Plan and Communicate Planning and communication is the first line of defense to avoid the nightmare. An open line of communication with one another is key to avoiding many problems when co-parenting. Communicate with one another as to how you will both be able to enjoy the holiday with the children. Communicating with your children as to what the plan allows them to know ahead of time will keep them from being surprised on the day of. When the children know in advance, they will have time to process and accept how things will be that day allowing them to have a fun Halloween night.   Costume Selection Costume selection may have gone off without a hitch in years past, but after a divorce, it may become a hot topic. Working together to choose an appropriate costume for your child is a great way to set a cohesive example for your kids. One parent allowing the children to wear a costume knowing the other parent would not approve will set a bad parenting example with lasting effects. You want to keep in mind that older children may take advantage if they know you do not work together.   Splitting Time Consider the children first. Think about their past Halloween routine. Is one parent still residing in the neighborhood that the children are familiar with? Do they have friends in that neighborhood? Do they prefer to stick with something familiar? Why not keep it classy and allow the children to trick or treat where they want? Consider splitting the night. Let them trick or treat a few hours with one spouse and a few hours with the other.  Let them think of it as getting double the candy. If you are not able to spend Halloween night with your children, start a new tradition with your kids. Do something special like a family night of carving pumpkins; take them to a pumpkin patch or a corn maze the weekend before. Whatever you do, do not bring the new girlfriend or boyfriend along, especially if this is all new territory for everyone. This can create tension and uneasiness for all involved—especially the children. The most important thing is to not ask your children who they would prefer to spend Halloween with. Their first preference is going to be both parents and if that is not possible, do not put your children in an impossible position to choose. If it so happens that you do not end up with children due to work commitments or other reasons, don’t make a big deal about to your children making them feel bad for having a good time a fun night. If you do not feel like you can handle being alone, make plans of your own with friends.   Disputes Over Religious Beliefs This can be more difficult to maneuver than simply having a say-so in the type of costume your child is wearing, because the court must balance a parent’s First Amendment right to religious freedom. As with most situations, it would be best if the two of you could work this out rather than have the courts decide. The outcome could result in a division that could be nearly impossible to repair. All parenting agreements should consider the possibility that a child may participate in events that may offend a parent’s religious convictions. These should absolutely be addressed beforehand to allow time for both parties to defend their beliefs. It can be more tricks than treats when working out holiday custody arrangements, so allow Kevin Hickey Law Partners to help make the holidays a smooth process for you and your family and avoid the nightmare that could evolve from poor planning.

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CPS & Divorce...

You are going through a tumultuous divorce and to make matters worse child protective services (CPS) becomes involved. The first thing you need to do is contact your divorce attorney. Your attorney should be present for all interviews. Additionally, your attorney should be involved with anything that involves child protective services, including all paperwork. You want to make sure you are getting the protection you need as anyone can make a report suggesting that your children are being mistreated, abused and or neglected.  Any person who believes a child is being abused or neglected in good faith should make a report to CPS or to the police. If your soon-to-be ex has made a false report, the first offense is a Class A misdemeanor. False reports thereafter are a Class D felony. Once a report is made, Arkansas law requires that the Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) or the Arkansas State Police Family Protection Unit must assess the report. It is crucial that you work closely with your attorney during this process. The first thing that will happen is that CPS will want to talk to you, your children and other people that may have important information like doctors, teachers, daycare workers, etcetera. The law authorizes CPS to investigate any reports of suspected child abuse or neglect. Keep in mind that CPS does not have to tell you before they interview your child and does not need your permission. The child will be interviewed at a location that is convenient and comfortable for the child. For example, at school, daycare or at home. Only after your child has been interviewed will you be notified. Additionally, CPS and the police have the authority to photograph the child as deemed necessary to document the child’s physical condition. After the interview process, CPS will conduct their investigation. The investigation will entail an assessment of family strengths and risks to the children. If the investigation reveals abuse and or neglect, the police will most likely get involved to place the child in protective custody. If the social worker does not feel the child is in danger, he or she may continue to visit your home to talk about any problems you are having regarding your child and offer help to assist you in making things better for you and your family. If the report is found to be true, DCSF will notify you and you will have 30 days from the day you receive the notice to request an administrative hearing. This hearing will be your opportunity to appeal the investigative determination. If you do not request the hearing within the 30-day timeframe, the judge will decide the true determination and it will remain a true finding, you name will be placed in the Arkansas Child Maltreatment Central Registry. If the report is unsubstantiated (not true), you can request a copy of the report. The report will not tell you who made the report. You must send a written, notarized request, along with a check or money order for $10 to get a copy of your report. The request must include your name and address and the names of the children involved. The request should be mailed to: Arkansas Department of Human ServicesDivision of Child and Family ServicesCentral Registry UnitP.O. Box 1437, (Slot S566)Little Rock, Arkansas 72203-1437 All hard copy records of unsubstantiated reports are destroyed at the end of the month in which the determination is made, so you must act quickly to get a copy of the report. If you are a parent of a child involved in an investigation, but you are NOT the subject of the report, your request must include a statement attesting to your legal relationship to the child. During the investigation and proceedings, if required, it is the goal of the court to get help for the children and the parents so that they can be reunited and the children can live safely with one or both parents. If you find yourself in a situation such as this, let Kevin Hickey Law Partners help you gather all of the necessary information and consider all of your options before deciding how to proceed.

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Writing A Successful Parenting Plan...

As with any court proceeding, it is beneficial if you and the other party can agree on a plan beforehand. It is even more important for a divorcing couple to agree on a parenting plan. A parenting plan is a document that outlines how the children will be raised when the two parents do not live together. The plan allows parents to resolve disagreements and document what you do agree on when it comes to parenting your children. The plan is included with your petition for divorce and includes a visitation schedule, custody statements, and how you plan to resolve disagreements. If you don’t do it, the family courts will do it for you. The first thing that the court looks for when looking at a parenting plan is how you will create a stable, supportive environment for the children. Plans that best meets the children’s physical and emotional needs will be well received by the courts. The more detailed and thought out, the better. Good Parenting Plans Include: Visitation Schedule – Under normal circumstances, the courts want to see that the children are spending ample time with both parents. Therefore, you plan needs to show a regular parenting time rotation pattern. If that will not work due to work schedules or other uncontrollable circumstances, then you will want to make sure the visitation plan includes longer amounts of time when that parent can see the children. Where will you pick-up and drop-off the children for visitations? Remember, in order to avoid involving public school personnel and to avoid disruptions to the educational atmosphere in public schools, Arkansas Code Title 9. Family Law 9-13-104 prohibits transfer of a child between the child’s custodial parent and noncustodial parent on the real property of a public elementary or secondary school on normal school days during normal school hours. This code does not prohibit one parent from transporting the child to school and the other from picking up at the school if prior approval has been obtained from the school’s principal. Activity/Event Schedule – With children comes many school and extracurricular activities. Your plan should include a way that you will communicate these things to one another. It is easier than it has ever been to create a means of sharing calendars with one another, so everyone is in the loop avoiding excluding one parent from these opportunities. Expenses – You need to decide how child-related expenses will be covered. This should include things like unexpected medical expenses, extracurricular activity fees like dance tuition and costumes, sports fees and equipment costs, and other unforeseen expenses. Major Decisions – Although one parent may have primary custody, normally both parents will want to be involved in major decisions regarding the children. This will include, but certainly not limited to, education, religious practices and health care. General Parenting Practices – Remember the more detailed the plan is, the better. Anything you deem important to raising your children should be included---curfew, dating, grade expectations, discipline, driving, buying a car for the child, just to name a few. When your child is small, some of these things may not be at the forefront of your thought-process, but the more that can be determined early on, the better. Now that you have your plan, you will want to leave a little room for flexibility. Life happens, things change, and unexpected occurrences take place. Yes, you should follow your plan as closely as possible, after all that is why you created it, but do not be so staunch about it that you become hard to work with.  Kevin Hickey Law Partners has years of experience assisting couples in writing parenting plans. We have helped couples write plans together or we have worked individually with a parent if the couple’s relationship is not amicable. It is ideal if we can assist the couple together, since this is only the beginning of parenting decisions you will have to make together throughout raising your children. However, if a couple cannot work together, each parent will submit a plan separately. Either way the more detailed your plan is, the better it will be. It is difficult to think of every detail that you will encounter when raising children, let our experience help you with the details.

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Things are about to get better. Call us.

(479) 434-2414 Fort Smith • (479) 802-6560 NWA

In the River Valley:
502 Garrison Avenue
Fort Smith, AR 72901
Phone: (479) 434-2414
Fax: (479) 434-2415

In Northwest Arkansas:
1120 S. Walton Blvd., Suite 142
Bentonville, AR 72712
Phone: (479) 802-6560
Fax: (479) 802-6561

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