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Juvenile Court

In Arizona our Superior Court has a Juvenile Division.

The Juvenile Division of the Superior Court has jurisdiction over all adoption, dependency and delinquency actions. If any of those actions are pending, the Juvenile Division of the court will have exclusive jurisdiction. That means that the Family Law Division will not be able to enter orders regarding the child until such time as jurisdiction is relinquished or the juvenile matter is resolved. However, in many counties, the Juvenile Division will “consolidate” family matters within the juvenile matter. That means that a case for parenting time could be addressed by a Juvenile Division judge.

What are these actions?

Adoptions are kind of obvious and involve the adoption of a child as if they were born to you naturally. When you adopt a child, you assume every responsibility for that child including the obligation for support. You also gain all of the rights of the natural parent. Adoption is a very noble undertaking and includes life-long commitment. If you’re unsure of the ramifications of an adoption, you need to discuss the matter with an attorney.

Dependency actions are usually started by the Department of Economic Security, Child Protection Services. When you hear about “CPS” taking a child, that action usually results in the filing of a dependency action. Many parents in such actions operate under a misunderstanding. CPS is not the court. CPS is merely one of the litigants in a dependency action. It is perfectly acceptable to fight CPS and is often exactly what a parent will want to do. Many parents are scared to fight and meekly accept what CPS demands. Don’t fall into that trap! If you enter into an agreement in court with CPS, you will be committing to approximately one year of tasks called a “caseplan.” Seek the advice of an attorney before your first court date. CPS likes to win! At the very first court hearing, CPS will be asking you to admit to what they have alleged against you. If you enter into such admissions, you have committed to the caseplan and cannot retract your admissions later! The time to fight a dependency case is at the very beginning so don’t delay in seeking the advice of an attorney.

Delinquency actions are ones where a child is charged with behavior that would have been a criminal act if the child were an adult. When a child is charged with a delinquency, he/she is not charged with a crime! They are alleged to be delinquent. Of course, they are charged with behavior that would have been criminal if they were adults, so many parents become confused. Many years ago, our society realized that, frequently, children lack the capacity to understand that their behavior is wrong. Rather than treat them as we do adult criminals (who are assumed to know their behavior is criminal), we created our Juvenile Courts. The Juvenile Court is more concerned with correcting behavior and allowing our incorrigible children a chance to become productive members of society. The Juvenile Court will usually impose consequences on a child that has been found to be “delinquent.” While punishment is still imposed, the central theory behind the Juvenile Courts is rehabilitation. If your child is charged with a delinquent act, remember the purpose of the Juvenile Court. A child has the right to be represented by an attorney and has most of the same trial rights as an adult. There are no juries in juvenile proceedings, so your child will have a “bench trial” where the case is heard directly to the judge. The County Attorney will represent the state in juvenile delinquency proceedings. The County Attorney also recognizes the underlying purpose of the system and will often seek to negotiate a plea bargain with your child. You will want your child to have the benefit of counsel with regard to negotiating plea deals with the County Attorney. If a plea bargain cannot be reached, your child’s attorney will be able to have the matter set for a trial. Although your child will be appointed an attorney, you have the right to seek an attorney of your choice. Be sure your attorney has experience in juvenile matters because they differ in many ways from the adult system.

The Juvenile Division is very specialized. If you are involved with that system, you need representation of your choice. If you are being advised to take action that you do not feel if correct, be sure to seek a second opinion. Any attorney you meet with should be experienced in the juvenile system, so be sure to ask.