Dependency & Neglect

Occasionally, children need to be removed from their parents’ home. When this happens, a parent’s rights may be childneglectdivorcefamilylawterminated or suspended, and the child may be taken into custody by the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) or by a private party. These cases are very often filed by DCS after a child is removed from the parents’ home, but concerned friends or family can also request a removal. For example, a concerned family member or close friend might file a petition with the court, requesting that the children be removed from the home and that the petitioner (family or friend that filed the request) be granted temporary custody of those children.

Ms. Castles has devoted a substantial amount of time to cases involving allegations of child dependency & neglect. She has represented parents who are fighting to keep custody of their children as well as concerned family members who requested custody of a neglected or abused child. These cases involve very serious allegations and can carry long-term consequences. If you have been contacted by the Department of Children’s Services, or if you are concerned that your children might be removed from your care contact our office immediately to protect your rights. Also, if you are worried about a child you believe to be in danger, contact our office to schedule a free consultation and discuss how you can gain temporary custody of that child.

DCS is Trying to Terminate My Parental Rights

The state of Tennessee requires the Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) to request termination a parent’s rights if there are allegations of severe child abuse or severe abuse of a child’s sibling. DCS must also get involved when children have been living in foster care for at least 15 of the last 22 months or when a child has been abandoned before their first birthday.

DCS can delay these proceedings if the child is being cared for by a family member or if termination of a parent’s rights would not be best for the child.

The goal of DCS, when they are involved, is almost always to work toward reuniting parents and children, and the Department is required to make efforts toward accomplishing this goal.

Transferring Custody to a Non-Parent

Often, relatives will seek custody of an abused or neglected child. This is different from grandparent rights under Tennessee law, which only provides for visitation with grandchildren in certain limited situations. In a dependency and neglect case, grandparents (or another family member who has filed) will be granted custody of the children if the court finds that the children are, in fact, dependent and/or neglected.

You will only be granted custody once that determination has been made. Children can be found dependent and neglected in the following situations:

  • The child has no parent, guardian or legal custodian
  • The child’s parents or guardians are unfit to care for them
  • The child is unlawfully or improperly supervised, cared for or withheld from school
  • The child’s parent or guardian fails to provided necessary medical, surgical or institutional care
  • The child has been abused or neglected

When these circumstances exist, a judge in Tennessee can legally transfer custody of a child to a third-party adult, if the change in custody will serve the child’s best interest.

Typically, the parents will be given time throughout the case to better their circumstances prior to losing custody on a more permanent basis. If parents do not take advantage of this time to improve their lives, they may lose their “superior parental rights”. What this means is that, if the parent later files to have custody returned to him or her, the parent will not be preferred over the family or friends who have been granted custody of the child. If you have questions about when and how this happens, contact our office today.


In Tennessee, adults can be appointed as the permanent guardian for dependent and neglected children. Guardians may be any adult, so long as the adult has a significant relationship with the child. If the child has been in state custody, the judge might ask a DCS worker for their opinion on the appointment of a guardian. However, if the child has not been in state custody, relatives or non-relatives may petition the court to be appointed as a permanent guardian for the child, if those persons have legal or physical custody of the child in question.

Who can be a Guardian?

Judges will look at several factors to determine whether someone should be appointed as a guardian for a child. These factors include:

  • Whether the person is emotionally, mentally, physically and financially responsible
  • Whether the person is capable of providing the child with a safe, stable and permanent home
  • Whether the person will commit to raising the child until he or she turns 18 years old
  • Whether the person has a clear understanding of their financial obligations to the child once they are appointed as guardian
  • And whether the person is willing to follow court orders regarding parental visitation and contact


If you are involved in a dependency and neglect case, please take these allegations very seriously. If you know about an abused or neglected child, please let someone know. This can be done by contacting DCS, or you may file a petition for temporary custody of the child, as discussed above. Protecting children is our office’s most important job. Contact us today with any questions related to dependency and neglect. We serve clients in the following Tennessee counties: Williamson County, Davidson County, Rutherford County, Maury County, Sumner County and Dickson County. For other counties, please call to verify availability for representation.

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