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Family Division

Juvenile Matters

Windham District/Family Courthouse

Frequently Asked Questions
expand  What is the Court Diversion Program?
expand  Why might my family be involved in a Juvenile Proceeding?
There are two reasons why families find themselves involved in a juvenile proceeding:
1) A child may be in need of care or supervision. The court calls this type of case “CHINS.” This means the child may have been abandoned or abused by the parents or custodian; or is without proper parental care, education, medical or other care necessary for the child's well-being; or is without or beyond the control of the parent or custodian; or is truant from school.
2) A child may have committed a delinquent act. The court calls this type of case a delinquency. A delinquent act is one that would be a crime if committed by adult.
 All juvenile court proceedings are CONFIDENTIAL. The public does not have access to juvenile court files or juvenile court hearings.
expand  Who might I meet when I go to the Juvenile Hearing?
expand  What should I know about Juvenile Hearings?
If you are a party in a juvenile matter, it is very important that you attend all court hearings, unless your lawyer tells you not to. It is a good idea to arrive at least 15 minutes before the time on your court notice.
Here is a list of juvenile hearings:
Emergency Care: A child may be taken into emergency custody if: the child is in immediate danger, the child has run away, or the child has been arrested. These emergency hearings may happen in front of the judge or by phone. The judge then approves a temporary plan until he/she can hear more of the facts. The child may be returned to the parents or placed somewhere else (if custody is temporarily transferred to another party, most often the Department for Children and Families (DCF)).
Temporary Care Hearing:  Within 72 hours of an Emergency Care Order, a Temporary Care hearing will be held. The judge asks the parents, DCF, the State’s Attorney, and the child for their opinions about what would be best for the child. Children over the age of 10 are usually expected to attend this hearing. The court will return custody of the child to the custodial parent unless returning home is not in the child’s welfare. The court may transfer custody to a non-custodial parent, a relative (grandparent, sibling, aunts/uncles etc.), to someone with a close relationship to the child, or to DCF.  
Preliminary Hearing:  If there is no need for a Temporary Care Hearing, the first hearing is a Preliminary Hearing. The Petition and the Affidavit explain why the child has come to the attention of the court. If all parties admit to the allegations in the petition, the next hearing will be a Disposition Hearing. If any party denies the allegations in the petition, the next hearing will usually be a Pre-trial or a Merits Hearing. Parties may resolve the case any time before the Merits Hearing.

Pre-Trial Hearing: This is a hearing to keep the judge informed of all issues to be resolved, including whether there will be an admission or denial of the allegations in the petition. The judge may proceed directly to the Merits stage.

Merits Hearing: The Merits Hearing is the trial in the case. The case is presented to a judge without a jury. Sometimes testimony is presented by the child, family, teachers, doctors, friends, witnesses, police officers, social workers, or foster parents. Testimony is given under oath. After listening to the evidence, the judge will make a decision. If a child is found to be delinquent or in need of care or supervision, the judge may order DCF to prepare a disposition case plan. If the evidence does not support the charges, the judge can dismiss the case. If the judge needs more time to think about the case, the judge will make a decision in writing at a later date.
Disposition Hearing:  This is the hearing where the plan for the child and/or the family is decided. Before this hearing, the social worker prepares a report. This is called the Disposition Case Plan. The Plan focuses on the family and/or child, and what they need to do to remedy the problems that brought them to court. DCF is required to involve the child and family in the case planning process. All parties, including the court, should receive a copy of the Plan before the hearing. At the hearing, everyone gives their opinion about the case plan. The judge will either accept or reject the plan and will make a decision about custody of the child at this time. In delinquency cases, the judge may place the youth on probation.
Permanency Hearing:  This comes later in the process. The purpose of this hearing is to decide on a permanent home for the child, which could be with the family or elsewhere if the child is not safe with his or her family. About a month before the hearing, DCF files an updated case plan called a Permanency Plan. Parties have the right to disagree with the Permanency Plan. The judge will issue a Permanency Order.
Other Things to Know About Hearings
Notices of hearings: All parties to a juvenile case are given advance notice of hearings. The notice is usually given in writing, and is mailed to the lawyers and to any party who does not have a lawyer. Occasionally, in emergency situations, notice of hearing may be given in person or by telephone. Always let your lawyer and the court know how to contact you if your phone number or address change.
Continuances: Any party may request in writing that a court hearing be continued to another date if they cannot attend the scheduled hearing. Continuances are only granted by the judge for good reasons, such as illness.  When a hearing is continued, all parties are given notice (in writing if there is enough time) of the change in date.
expand  What are my rights and responsibilities?
expand  How should I work with my lawyer?
Be honest and open. The lawyer may not tell others what you say to them without your agreement.
Be prepared. Make the best use of the time you have by making a list of what you want to talk about, including your questions and concerns.
Ask questions if you don't understand something.
Take your time to make decisions that make sense to you. Talk through possibilities with your lawyer. Even when you are in a hearing and feel pressured to make a quick decision, ask for a few minutes to think and talk with your lawyer.
Listen to your lawyer. Your lawyer will advise you based on the law and his or her experience. Listen carefully and decide if the advice is right for you. If you disagree, tell you lawyer and explain why.
expand  Where would I find laws pertaining to juvenile proceedings?
expand  What are the courtroom guidelines?
All parties are expected to be respectful of each other and of the judge. Unless the judge tells you otherwise, you should stand when the judge enters or leaves the courtroom, and whenever you speak to the judge. The judge will provide an opportunity for all persons involved in the case to be heard. Even if you strongly disagree with something that another person says, do not interrupt. When you are asked for your opinion, speak plainly and politely. Keep in mind that the judge may also look at your body language and behavior in the courtroom.
If you cannot hear what the others are saying in the courtroom, let the judge know you can’t hear. When you are speaking in the courtroom, speak loudly enough so that everyone in the courtroom can hear you.
If you do not understand what is happening, feel free to ask your lawyer or the judge to explain.