Individuals have a Fourteenth Amendment right to family integrity. For that reason government intrusion into a family’s life is highly restricted by law. Essentially the state can only become involved if a child is being, has been or will be harmed. DCF, hospitals and few other authorities have the the legal authority to remove a child from his or her parents for up to 96-hours without obtaining a court order. This is often called a “96-hour hold.” It can only be exercised if the agency reasonably suspects that the child is in immediate danger and that a removal is necessary to protect his or her safety. If there is no court order at the end of the hold, the child must be returned.
If the emergency persists or the agency seeks a longer removal, it must obtain and Order of Temporary Custody (OTC) from a judge. This is initially done on an ex parte basis, meaning that the moving party can present the application to a judge without the other side (the parents) knowing. If the court determines there is probable cause that a child is in immediate physical danger, it can issue an ex parte OTC. The evidence is often by affidavit. Note that this is very, very similar to how police obtain a warrant to perform a search or make an arrest. A petition alleging that the child is neglected, uncared for or abused is also filed at this time.
The parents must be served and are given a court date within ten days of the issuance of the OTC. This is called the OTC preliminary hearing. At this time the parents are allowed to apply for and receive attorneys if they are indigent, are advised of their rights by the court and decide whether to contest or to sustain the OTC. Parents have a right to a trial within ten days of the preliminary hearing to force the state to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not–the typical civil standard), that the child will be placed in immediate physical danger if returned to the parents. Sustaining the OTC means that the parent is waiving the right to a hearing and allowing the child to remain in DCF custody until further notice.
Whether an OTC is sustained by agreement or the court after a hearing, it could be vacated in the future uon motion by any of the parties. If it is not, it will remain in effect until there is an adjudication or a dismissal of the petition.
A person whose child has been removed should consult with an attorney as soon as possible. Connecticut provides court-assigned counsel for those who cannot afford private attorneys. One can be applied for and obtained prior to or even on the OTC preliminary day.