Utah Defense Attorneys

child welfare Having your children taken away by the State of Utah is terrible. The Utah Division of Child and Family Services (“DCFS”) is tasked with preventing child abuse, child neglect and child sex abuse. If you are suspected of abusing your children, DCFS will take your children and then give you around twelve months to fix the problems.

You have legal rights and opportunities for a shelter hearing and an eventual opportunity for a full trial in front of the Juvenile Court Judge. Having a Utah Juvenile trial attorney who knows his ways around the courthouse will help you get your kids back.

If your kids have been taken by the State of Utah, here is the timeline you can expect in a Utah child welfare case:

Child Protective Services Worker Interviews your Child. When the State of Utah and DCFS alleges that your children are being abused, as defined under the Utah Juvenile Act, they will often interview your children at school, without your knowledge.   The DCFS child protection worker may come to your home and ask for an interview with you, calling it a “Welfare” home check. The DCFS worker may call you on the telephone and record the telephone call without your knowledge. Law enforcement may also be involved in more serious cases that rise to the level of criminal child abuse charges. Anytime a police officer is talking to you, expect that they will have body camera footage. If you are interviewed at the police station, you will be recorded and there are also one way mirrors. If you are called by the police, expect that they also will be recording the conversation.

5th Amendment—Assert it!

When dealing with the police or DCFS workers, you generally should not speak with them until you talk to an attorney about your legal rights. The United States Constitution and the Utah Constitution both have the right to remain silent and the right against self-incrimination. You should use these legal rights rather than talking to the police or the DCFS worker. As a general rule, you will not do yourself any good by speaking with the police or DCFS.  They are trained investigators and work on these cases daily.

Petition for Protective Services:

DCFS or any interested person may file a petition with the Juvenile Court alleging that your children are being abused, neglected or deprived. The petition must be verified and state the facts and legal grounds for the relief sought.

The petitioner may ask that court for removal of the children from your home or may ask that a treatment plan be set in place to remedy any parenting defects that were causing the abuse or neglect.

Shelter Hearing:

Within 72 hours of DCFS removing your child from your home, the Juvenile Court must hold a “Shelter Hearing.” At this Shelter hearing, the Juvenile Judge shall hear all relevant evidence provided by the parties. If the Court believes preliminarily the child has been abused or neglected, the Juvenile Court may continue the removal of the child from your home, or may return the child to your home if the State has not produced sufficient evidence of abuse or neglect.

Pretrial Conference on the Child Welfare Petition:

Once the petition for child abuse or neglect has been filed, a pretrial conference must be held on the petition with 15 days after the shelter hearing.

Trial/Adjudication of the Child Welfare Petition:

Within 60 days of the petition for child abuse or neglect, the court must schedule a bench trial to determine the final merits of the child welfare petition. At this trial, the petitioner, normally the State of Utah but it can be a private party, must prove to the court by clear and convincing evidence that the child has been abused or neglected as defined in the Juvenile Court Act. Preponderance of the evidence means that the petitioner has proven the facts in the petition by a more likely than not standard, or a 51 percent stand. Clear and convincing is a higher standard where the evidence is not just more likely than not, but the evidence must be both clear and convincing, leaving the judge with a firm conviction of the truth of the facts presented to the court. Beyond a reasonable doubt is reserved for criminal cases, but is used when Native American children are involved. The Indian Child Welfare Act is federal law that is applied when Native American children are involved in a child welfare case.

At trial, your Juvenile attorney will call witnesses and present evidence to the court on your behalf. It is important to choose a skillful trial lawyer to adequately and zealously represent you.


If DCFS fails to prove their petition for abuse and neglect, the court at the end of the child welfare trial will return the child to your custody and the case is over. If the petition does prove their case then the court will conduct a disposition hearing immediately after the adjudication hearing or not later than 30 days after the adjudication hearing was held.

The purpose of the disposition hearing for the court to hear evidence on what are appropriate services to fix the problem that led to the children being taken into State’s custody in the first place. The court must articulate that the service plan has made reasonable efforts to reunify the child with the child’s parents. The Juvenile court will set a Permanency Hearing within 12 months to see if reunification services will continue or a petition for termination of parental rights shall be filed by DCFS.

The Juvenile Judge is not required to provide reunification services to parents whose child was taken into State’s custody when the Juvenile Court adjudicates that the case involves obvious sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, abandonment, severe abuse, or severe neglect. When this type of abuse is present, the Juvenile Court will not make reasonable attempts to rehabilitate the parents and will move toward termination of parental rights.

Review Hearings: Upon petition by any party, or upon the Juvenile Court’s initiative, a review hearing may be held to review the status of the parent’s progress and compliance with the Juvenile Court’s dispositional orders.
Permenancy Hearing:

The Permenancy Hearing will be held within 12 months of the child’s removal.  If reunification services were not ordered to rehabilitate the parent due to serious abuse, then a Permenancy Hearing will be held within 30 days of the Disposition Hearing.

The purpose of the Permenancy Hearing is to determine whether to return the child to the parent’s custody, or to order that petition for termination of parental rights be filed forthwith. If the Court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the parent has not fixed the problems that led to the child’s removal, the court shall not return the child and order that a parental rights termination petition be filed.

Even if the parents have not entirely complied with the reunification service plan, the Juvenile Court may extend the reunification service plan for another 90 days if the Juvenile Court finds that the parents “substantially” complied with the service plan


Parents who fail to comply with the reunification services plan, the Juvenile Judge will order that a petition for termination of parental rights be filed and set a pretrial conference with a subsequent trial date.

The shelter hearing, the adjudication on the original petition for child abuse and neglect and the termination petition do not allow for a jury trial, but only a Juvenile Judge.


Sometimes, the allegations of abuse are so severe that automatic petitions for termination of parental rights must be filed. Here are the grounds for a mandatory termination petition:

(a)                  an abandoned infant; or

(b)                  the child of a parent, whenever a court has determined that the parent has: (i) committed murder or child abuse homicide of another child of that parent; (ii) committed manslaughter of another child of that parent; (iii) aided, abetted, attempted, conspired, or solicited to commit murder, child abuse homicide, or manslaughter against another child of that parent; or (iv) committed a felony assault or abuse that results in serious physical injury to:

(A)                  another child of that parent; or

(B)                  the other parent of the child.


Hiring a Utah defense attorney with experience in Juvenile child welfare proceedings will increase your odds of never having your kids taken from you in the first place, but also increase your odds of getting them back faster.

The trial lawyers at Howard Lewis & Petersen, PC have decades of experience in advocating for people legal rights in Utah’s Courtrooms.