How to Lose your Kids in Nevada
A Step-by-Step Guide

This page is incomplete and out of date and is retained only for archive purposes. The dependency court process is better explained in a booklet: A Parent's Guide to Dependency Court (inspired in part by this page).
Step 1: Do drugs.

Step 2: Get caught doing drugs while caring for your kids.

Step 3: Lose your kids.

This may sound easy, but it's not. Step 3 is only the beginning of what could become a very long process lasting months or years. The fact is, the government doesn't want your kids and will try to do everything it can to give them back to you. (Can you blame them?) Doing drugs just once is not going to be sufficient. To permanently get rid of your kids, you are going to have to keep using drugs, avoid contact with your caseworker, skip court hearings, and resist all efforts at treatment and counseling. Relieving you of your children is not done quickly but involves the ponderous due process of law, which takes a long time and provides you with ample opportunity to change your mind.

The government may seem powerful, but stealing your kids ain't easy. Contrary to popular belief, there is no secret cabal of evil forces at the highest level of government and industry conspiring to take your children. Instead, your case is managed by a semi-secret cabal of county employees who look just like you and me and who believe they are working for Good. Instead of being directed by the United Nations or the Council on Foreign Relations, they are guided by the written instructions of Nevada law. If you really want to lose your kids, then you don't have to know anything about this system; just keep doing what you are doing, and it will all work out. However, if you want your kids back, it is helpful to know how the process works and the rights and powers that you have.

The Process

If you were caught using illegal drugs while children are in your care, it is automatically considered "neglect" under Nevada Law (NRS 432B.140, case?), even if your home is spotless and you never physically harmed your children. In theory, smoking a joint in your backyard can get your children taken away, but in practice it takes methamphetamine, cocaine or substantial saleable quantities of marijuana to initiate the process. (You also might lose your kids if you call a press conference and announce loudly, "Hey, look everybody, I'm smoking marijuana; come and get me!") Your case is thrown into the same processing stream as parents who are accused of beating or sexually abusing their kids. If you were arrested at the same time you lost your kids, then you will have to contend with criminal court for whatever the alleged crime was, but the custody and welfare of your children is handled completely separately, in civil proceedings in Family Court. You can lose your kids even if you are never arrested and are never charged with any criminal offense.

After your kids are taken away by police or social workers, here is what happens in the coming days, months and years....

Step 4: Kids taken into custody. (NRS 432B.390) After the children are taken from your home, they are usually brought first to Child Haven, the county's emergency shelter for abused and neglected children. The police or social workers may give you a number to call for information on the status of your kids (although you will probably lose it because you're on drugs). If you are accused of something less than drug abuse — like forgetting the pick up your first grader at school or leaving him unattended at Wal-Mart, then you can probably get your kid back in a couple of hours. However, If drugs or significant allegations of physical abuse are involved, then your children will stay in Child Haven for at least a couple of days. There is probably no way to get them back or even talk to them until a court hearing, so chill out. In Child Haven, your children are safe and well attended. The only thing you can do right now is get the time of the hearing (which is usually 9 am on the next or following business day). If you are sober, you should try to contact the investigator who is handling the case, but this is not always possible before the first hearing.

Step 5: Protective Custody Hearing. Legally, the police or Child Protective Services (CPS) can take your children from your home based only on their judgment that the children are in danger (NRS 432B.390 1a). However, this discretion is only valid for 72 hours. After that, the government needs the approval of a judge if it wants to continue holding your kids. This approval is granted at a "Protective Custody" (PC) hearing (NRS 432B.470), which is roughly the equivalent of an arraignment in a criminal case. In the waiting room or hallway outside the courtroom, you will have a chance to meet and talk with the CPS investigator who is handling your case. The investigator will discuss the charges against you and will probably ask you about any relatives who can take the kids. You will then appear in court when your case is called. You have a "right" to an attorney in this court, but only if you can pay for it yourself; a public defender is not normally appointed at this early stage, and most parents appear without an attorney. The investigator will describe to the judge, verbally, the circumstances that brought the children into custody and make a recommendation about what should happen next. The children could be released to you today, but this is unlikely if there are direct allegations that you used drugs. It is more likely that the children could be released to a relative, but even this may take a few days. If the judge finds that there are reasonable grounds for holding the kids, then another hearing will be set for 10 days from now. In all likelihood, your kids will remain in Child Haven, but you will now have a chance to visit them, probably the same day.

Step 6: Plea Hearing. After the PC hearing, the government has 10 days to assemble its formal grounds for taking the kids. This will take the form of a written document called a "Petition" (NRS 432B.510), as copy of which you will receive before the hearing (NRS 432B.513). The document will describe the events that lead to the children being taken and may also include information on any prior cases you have been involved in. About 10 days after the PC hearing, A "Plea" hearing takes place (NRS 432B.490 1b). Here, you must decide whether to admit or deny the charges. If you DENY the charges now, then there will be a further hearing about 30 days from now, in which the allegations against you must be proven. If you ADMIT the charges now, then this hearing is skipped. (Admitting drug use in this court rarely results in further criminal prosecution, only a plan for treatment.) Most parents admit to the charges. At the Plea Hearing, the placement of children with relatives may be formally approved. The relatives can be used only if they the pass a cursury criminal check and agree to the placement. If there are no suitable relatives, then the children will probably remain in Child Haven for a while.

Suggestion: It is a good idea to ask for a public defender at the Plea Hearing, even though it may not be granted. Public defenders are every bit as competent as any attorney you can hire (often more so, because they understand this court), and it is better to get one for free if you can. An attorney is especially helpful during Step 7 in the process.

    Step 6A: Adjudicatory Hearing on Petition. If you denied the charges at the Plea Hearing, then a new hearing is scheduled about 30 days later (NRS 432B.530). At this hearing — essentially a trial — the government will present its case against you, including calling witnesses and presenting the results of any drug tests. You also have the right to call witnesses of your own. You have the right to hire an attorney, but this being a civil matter, you don't necessarily have a right to a public defender. The standards of proof are somewhat lower here than they would be in a criminal trial. In criminal cases, you have a right to a jury trial, and guilt must be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt." Here, your case will be decided only by a judge based on a "preponderance of evidence," which is basically the discretion of a judge who hears these cases every day. If the charges are not proven (which is rare), you can take your children home the same day (NRS 432B.530 ¶5). If the charges are proven, then you will proceed to Step 7, having lost a several weeks in the process.
Step 7: Development of Case Plan. Over the course of the next 15 days (or 30(?) if there was no Adjudicatory Hearing), you will work with your caseworker to develop a case plan. This is a written document specifying the steps you have to go through to get your kids back. The case plan is tailored to your particular situation and the circumstances that brought the children into custody. You may be required to attend and complete a drug treatment program, submit to random drug testing, get a job (an arrangement by which you trade your labor for money) and find safe and stable place to live. The case plan may also specify how and when you will get your kids back if you make good progress on this plan. Everyone who is still in the system at this stage gets a case plan, whether they want one or not. If you fail to contact your caseworker and don't show up at hearings, then a default case plan will be entered for you.

The case plan is important, because it is the blueprint for all the processes that will follow. If you complete the terms of your case plan, then you will get your children back. If you substantially fail the case plan, and do it consistantly over time, then you will permanently lose your children. It is useful to have a lawyer to help you review the case plan, to give you maximum flexibility and keep you from making promises that might not be able to fulfill. (For example, the case plan may require you to attend adult education classes and learn to read, but you don't want this clause to prevent you from getting your kids back if you do everything else right. Then again, if you can't read, YOU WOULDN'T BE READING THIS WEB PAGE.)

Suggestion: If you want your kids back, then this period is the time to prove that you are serious about it. You need to stay off drugs and keep in contact with your caseworker (without becoming annoying). You can start working on your case plan even before it is approved by the court. It is fairly important now to not piss off your caseworker, no matter how much like Satan they may seem, as he or she is going to report to the court on your attitude.

Step 8: Report and Disposition Hearing (R&D). About 30(?) days after Step 6 (or 15 days after Step 6A), you will attend a hearing in which the case plan is reviewed and approved by a judge. The caseworker may also submit to the judge, in writing and orally, further information on your case and the condition and placement of the children. The judge will be concerned with your apparent progress in addressing whatever problem brought the children into custody. The judge will be concerned with where the children are now and where they are going to go. If no suitable relative can be found to take the children, then the case will be referred to the foster care division of the Department of Family Services (DFS) and the kids will be placed in a foster home. Once the case plan is approved and the placement of the children is decided, there may be no more hearings for six months.

Suggestion: If you don't want your kids back, then you should blow off the R&D hearing and get high instead. Although this in itself will not guarantee the permanent loss of your children, it is a good start.

Step 9: Six-Month Review. After the R&D hearing, there will be a hearing to review of your case at least every six months (NRS 432B.530).

[Coming: Termination of Parental Rights]

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