Our Why

It took years to get here, but I am glad I am finally here. Finding myself, my worth, and why I do what I do was always not clear. I suspect the same for many people. However, arriving at why we do what we do is important, no matter how long it takes, is worth it.

As a child, we moved around a lot! The song by the Temptations “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” made sense to me. By the time I was in high school, I lived in three different states, attended several different schools, and almost lost track of the different homes where we lived. Our family was always in search of better, and better often meant a move. Yet, in all of this instability, I actually had stability. No matter where we lived I knew my mother would be home. I knew that Monday night dinner was always Sunday’s leftover, Friday was pizza night, and Saturday was soup day. I knew that there was no tv during the school week and Sundays we went to church. I had incredible stability despite the many changes in location. My mother provided the stability in every home we lived in and that made all the difference in the world. Locations changed but Momie stayed the same.

As an adult, I find that often quote my mother and recall the valuable lessons she taught me. My work ethic comes from her and she instilled in us (whether we wanted it or not) a spirit of excellence. I thought she was so strict and at times mean. Little did I know that she was giving us what we needed to be the responsible and hardworking adults we are now. I now realize how important a parent is for every child. If you noticed, I haven’t mentioned my dad. Unfortunately, he wasn’t around for most of childhood and it remains the same today. Yet, his very absence played a significant role in my life, and it took time to heal from that missing part of my life. No matter what, parents make a difference for every child. They can be the child’s greatest cheerleader or that child’s greatest nemeses.

Imagine a world where parents are supported in such a way that they are in the best position to love and care for their children. A world where parents learn from their mistakes and change so that they can be the finest parent possible to their children. A world were we give each child the opportunity to grow up with stability that comes from parents who put their needs first. At the Christie Law Firm, we are creating such a world. We are helping children, by helping their parents. We are making families stronger by focusing on what is best for the child and aiding parents to make that happen. What is best for any child are parents who love, and care for them, and provide the best life they can.

When you talk with us at The Christie Law Firm, LLC, we will ask about your kids. We want to know how they are doing. We will partner with you with them in mind. We will help you find solutions that make your families stronger, and give your kids what they deserve, great parents. Please note I didn’t say, perfect parents. However, you are great if you show up every day for your children, putting their needs above your own, and giving them a chance to succeed.

I will be forever grateful to my mother for the sacrifices she made to raise us. We moved around a lot, and I say it has made me able to adjust quickly to change. Yet, her stable presence in our lives, the lessons, and the direction she provided me has had more impact on who I am today than those relocations. Kids need their parents. Your kids need you. We can’t let them down and The Christie Law Firm is here to help.

Racist Kids

I know that I caught your attention. The mere notion of the term “racist kids” is tough for us to imagine. Yet consider this: racism exists, but it does not perpetuate itself. We help to keep it alive by teaching racism to children by our thoughts, words, and deeds. We are not born racist, but we can be taught to be racist.

“I don’t want black people on my lawn.” I was about 8 years old when I was told we could not cross our neighbor’s yard to get to the other part of the neighborhood. I remember thinking for the first time, “I am black?” My mother taught us that the only identity we needed to know was that we were her kids. This meant that we are to act accordingly. That day, I realized that what I looked like mattered to others for the first time in my life. Over time, it taught me to do the same for others. I began to judge people by their appearance. If they looked like me, it was safe, if they didn’t, beware. The older I got, the worse it became, especially after learning of slavery and other racial atrocities. I began to be hostile in my thoughts towards others who didn’t look like me. I was racist without ever intending to be so. I thank God that this behavior did not last. What changed? My understanding that God is not racist, and He loves us all. Heaven does not have a “black section.” If I am to be a child of God, I needed to see the beauty of all of his creation, not just my own.

This new understanding was tested when I was a social worker for DCF. I met “Jack” when I assigned to his case after he and his brothers were removed from their parents’ care. I learned that his father didn’t like black people, but I never thought about what impact on his father’s view would have on Jack. Until one day, Jack said to me, “I don’t like black people.” I paused, realized that he couldn’t fully appreciate what he was speaking at the moment as it was only six years old. My thoughts, “Do I treat him poorly and write him off as a racist, or do I take the opportunity to undo the damage that had been done?” That day, I decided to show Jack black people were ok. I spent time with Jack and showed him nothing but kindness. We didn’t talk about race or racism. We just learned more about each other. Taking him for ice cream also helped! Over time, Jack came to like me a great deal. He would often greet me with a hug. I later learned that his first “girlfriend” in second grade, was a little girl of color. Jack wasn’t racist, he was taught by his father to be racist, and that needed to be undone.

Parents have the most significant impact on their children. We can pass on our values and beliefs to the next generation easily. They are watching us and learning from us. Are we teaching them love or teaching them to hate? Are we teaching tolerance or discrimination? Are we teaching them the value of every human life or that some people are dispensable? Whatever the lesson, we are responsible for changing the fabric of society, starting with our children. “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” – Whitney Houston.

We can change things, one child, at a time.

5 Tips on Dealing with COVID-19 and Co-Parenting

On September 11, 2001, I stood and watched on TV as the second plane flew into one of the Twin Towers. We were sent home from work. I thought, “Are we under attack? Are we at war? Are we safe?” The days and months that ensued changed the fabric of our society. Fear became the norm and impacted many of our decisions. I thought that had to be the worse time of our lives, then COVID-19 happened.

We are now living in unprecedented times. We don’t fear the next terrorist attack…as much. We now fear a cough or a sneeze from another person. Although more people have survived having the COVID-19 virus, many have died. It is not possible to predict with certainty how you would survive having the virus. As a result, we are protective of ourselves and our loved ones, especially our children. This makes co-parenting very difficult in times like these. If the kids are in the house, you can have more control in preventing their exposure to the virus. Once they leave to visit the other parent, you no longer have that control. However, we cannot allow fear to rule the day. I truly believe “this too shall pass.” Yet, how you handle co-parenting can have a lasting impact on the future custody of your children.

In this article, we will go over some tips around co-parenting during this pandemic. I realize this is easier said than done. However, when we return to life, as usual, the Courts will look at how parents dealt with ensuring each party spent time with the child or children. In a time when we see so many people die from this virus, and you have no way of knowing who is next, you want to be sure to spend as much time loving each other as possible. We need to keep that in mind not only for ourselves but for the other parent as well. As you read these tips, try to put yourself in the other parents’ shoes. How would you want to be treated? What would be fair to you? After you have done that, then you can make decisions that are best for the children, which is the determining factor for the Court.

Tip 1: Maintain safety

There are articles, Facebook posts, and news reports every single day on how to stay safe during this crisis. I prefer to rely on the CDC for information – less propaganda! (See https://www.cdc.gov/). There you can learn information as to how to reduce the likelihood of being exposed to the virus. We should follow it and make sure that everyone in the house supports it as well. Now is not the time to allow our teens or anyone the freedom to “just be themselves.” Be vigilant, and we can improve the chances of not contracting the virus.

Tip 2: Talk openly and honestly with your children

There is no way to shield your children from what is happening in society. They see it as soon as they get on the internet on their way to navigating to their schoolwork. Do not assume that just because they are children, they do not have their thoughts and feelings about what is happening. Take the time to talk to them about what is happening and why you are taking the necessary precautions. This may help them to realize for themselves why they need to stay safe. Also, this will help them to be vigilant when they need to leave the house to visit with the other parent. They may be the ones to insist on the other parent taking precautions in the event the other parent is not as careful as you have been in your home.

Tip 3: Follow court orders

Admittedly, this can be very difficult to do under these circumstances. You have no way of knowing how safe the other parent is at any given time. This is why regularly talking to the other parent will help. You can’t decide in the vacuum. You need information. At some point, the Courts will open up, and the other parent may choose to file a motion for contempt, claiming you did not allow visits with the children. Your response can’t only be “there was a pandemic, and I wanted to keep the kids safe.” You need to have facts around why you stopped the visitation. Perhaps, the other parent wasn’t practicing social distancing as evidenced by the party pictures posted on Facebook or that he or she confirmed that they are sick. The Court takes their orders very seriously. Violating a court order can cost you, and so you need to be sure you are standing on solid facts before deciding to violate an order.

Tip 4: Find ways to compromise

Assume for the time being that the other parent cares as much about the children as you do. They may show it differently, but for now, give them the benefit of the doubt. Talk to them about ways you both can spend time with the children and keep them safe at the same time. Perhaps, for the time being, the visits are at your home so that you can watch as they come in and ensure they have washed their hands before being with the children. However, if you can’t be in the same room with each other, perhaps you can meet more often than the regular schedule but for less time somewhere in the community. You may agree upon a third party to host the parenting time because you can rely on that person to keep everyone safe. No matter what you do, enter the conversation ready to compromise, which often means giving up something. This will help in finding a means to allow the other parent time with kids and keep the kids safe. I am in no way suggesting you let the kids enter into an environment that is not safe for them. However, you can’t just default to “no” without first trying to find a way to make it work.

Tip 5: Document, document, document

You may be the parent who is denied the visit despite all of your efforts to keep safe, compromise with the other parent, and follow court orders. In that instance, I recommend that you document, document, document! In Connecticut, the courts are closed to any court activity that does not fall into the Priority 1 category. This category includes only specific types of cases such as

  • Criminal arraignments of defendants held in lieu of bond
  • All arraignments involving domestic violence cases;
    • Family orders of relief from abuse;
    • Civil orders of relief from abuse
    • Ex-parte motions
    • Orders of temporary custody (Juvenile Matters)
    • Orders to appear (Juvenile Matters)
    • Emergency ex-parte order of temporary custody
    • Juvenile detention operations for detainees held for juvenile Court

(See https://jud.ct.gov/COVID19.htm) for more details. Regrettably, motions around modifying visitation are not in this category. Moreover, there is no guarantee that if you file a motion emergency ex-parte order for temporary custody around obtaining visitation, it will be granted. Trust me, I tried! When the Courts reopen, they will review cases in which there was a violation of court-ordered visitation. You need to be prepared to lay out the details of the dates and times that you were not allowed visitation with your children. Do not wait until standing before a Judge to try to remember the facts. Keep a journal – whether you use a paper calendar or notes on your phone. Be sure to keep a good record of your efforts to see the kids and when the visit was denied. As I noted earlier, the Courts do not take violations of court orders lightly. The other parent will have to justify their refusal, and if they can’t, a court could rule against them. A Court can only do so when it has facts upon which it can rely. So again, I say, document, document, document.

COVID-19 will change our society. Time will tell the impact it will have on how we live our lives and conduct our business. One thing that will not change is that children need to have a relationship with both of their parents. If a Court finds that contact with a parent is not in the child’s best interest, then and only then, can contact be denied. In the meantime, we have to find a way to make parenting time with each parent happen even in a pandemic. Do you very best to find a way to keep the kids safe while ensuring that the other parent can spend time with the children.

One thing that COVID-19 has proven is we can’t predict who and how it will impact. Therefore, we need to spend as much time with our loved ones in any way we can. We will overcome this pandemic. We will survive, and life will go on. How we treat each other during this time is just as important. Don’t allow fear to rule the day.

Grandparents Raising Children

When the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) gets involved in a family situation, the agency’s wheels begin turning quickly. When DCF believes that the child is in danger by staying in the home, they will remove them. Where that child goes next depends on a lot of factors. The court will often appoint a guardian to make decisions for the child. Depending on the circumstances of the case, it’s possible that the grandparents could become the child’s legal guardian.

When DCF Gets Involved

Just about anyone who feels that a child’s safety, welfare, or health is in danger can call DCF in Connecticut. In fact, some professionals are required by law to notify DCF if there are suspected cases of abuse or neglect.

Once notified, DCF has an obligation to investigate the situation promptly. You will likely have a DCF investigator knock on your front door for an unannounced home visit. If the investigator has a reasonable suspicion that your child is not safe, they may also notify the police, who will respond with their own investigation.

Removing a Child from the Home

If DCF does an initial investigation and determines that there is a risk of abuse or neglect, they will attempt to create a plan to address the situation using their protocol and the services they have at their disposal. In many cases, DCF will remove the child from the home until they feel that it is once again a safe environment.

As relatives, grandparents have the legal right to notification if DCF decides to remove a child from the home. In general, DCF has an obligation to try to place the child with the other parent (if the parents are not living together) or with a relative of either parent. In many cases, it is the grandparents who are in the best position to care for and provide a home for the child. If they choose, the grandparents can request such a placement.

What Happens at a DCF Hearing?

Once a child has been removed from the home, there will be a hearing in front of a judge to give the parents a chance to argue their case. If they believe that the removal wasn’t appropriate, this is an opportunity to present such evidence. Unfortunately, many judges will side with DCF unless there has been a gross misunderstanding of facts. If you wish for your child to reside with their grandparents while your DCF case is pending, it would be a good idea to have them attend this hearing and indicate their willingness to become involved.

Filing a Petition for Guardianship

At the initial hearing, the court can grant temporary custody to a grandparent or possibly visitation rights. When there is an ongoing DCF investigation with removal from the home, the agency will move for guardianship. It would be better if you were proactive about guardianship instead of allowing a stranger to take on this role.

The child’s grandparents will need to file a petition for guardianship. This is generally the best way for grandparents to establish their custodial rights. Once guardianship is established, grandparents will have the right to make decisions for the children about healthcare and school. It can also prevent DCF from putting the children up for adoption or severing a parent’s parental rights prematurely.

The Benefits of Grandparent Guardianship

The main benefit of having a child’s grandparents appointed as your child’s legal guardian is the peace of mind you will have, knowing your children will be well cared for by a family member. But there are a few other benefits as well.

Even though a legal guardian has been appointed, parental rights haven’t been severed. Visitation arrangements, even supervised ones, can be much easier to handle when they are kept in the family. Also, there may be a lessened threat of adoption outside the family when your children maintain a close bond with a relative.

Court Systems

In Connecticut, there are different court systems that handle matters related to children. Each of them is different and having an understanding of these differences will help you decide the best course for your family. First, you have the Superior Court for Family Matters. This court hears “cases involving juveniles and family relationships. Typical cases include divorce, child custody, child support, relief from abuse (temporary restraining orders)” (See https://www.jud.ct.gov/external/super/divisions.htm). In this court, grandparents have very limited access to intervention. They may be limited to obtaining visitation with their grandchildren. In this court, it takes extraordinary circumstances to grant grandparent custody.

Secondly, there is the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters. In Juvenile Matters, the court hears matters pertaining to “termination of parental rights; emancipation of a minor; delinquency; neglected or uncared for children and youth; families with service needs.” See https://www.jud.ct.gov/external/super/divisions.htm). As it pertains to child custody, the majority of these matters are a result of DCF filing an order of temporary custody or neglect petitions on behalf of a child or children.

If you are a grandparent who is already caring for your grandchild, or you see that there is a need for you to step in given the parents’ struggle, the best place to go is the Probate Court for your town. The Probate Court is sometimes unofficially referred to as “the people’s court.” The reasoning behind this nickname is that it is far less formal than Family Matters or Juvenile Matters. Individuals can walk in and be assisted by court clerks in filling out the appropriate forms based on their requests. The only parties to the case are the petitioner, the mother, the father, and the child through his or her attorney. DCF’s role is only to complete an investigation and make a recommendation. The grandparents can make a plea for temporary custody, co-guardianship, removal of guardian and termination of parental rights in extreme cases. The Judges listen to all the parties and the setting is usually more relaxed. The rulings have the same weight as in a family or juvenile court, but grandparents caring for children tend to have more sway.

Contact an Experienced Connecticut DCF Defense Attorney

If a grandparent is available to act as your children’s guardian, this is always the best approach when DCF gets involved in your life. You never know what the future holds. While the goal might be fast reunification, DCF can ask the court at any point to sever your parental rights and move toward adoption. If this were to happen, both your and the grandparent’s rights would be lost.

Whenever DCF makes an appearance in your life, there is no time to spare. In Connecticut, relatives generally have just 90 days to intervene and seek custody of a child who has been removed from the home.

What to Do If DCF Calls You: Top 10 things to do or not do when you are being investigated by DCF


Now that we have discussed the outline of DCF investigation (see https://www.thechristielawfirm.com/post/what-to-do-if-dcf-calls-you) and your rights as parents when dealing with DCF, we want to review some tips on what to do or not do when you are being investigated by DCF. This in no means guarantees the outcome you desire or is intended to be legal advice, but it can help with lessening the risk of the case going in the wrong direction.

1. Do remain as calm as possible.

Yes, this is easier said than done. You are being accused of being a bad parent, the accusations may be baseless, and now DCF is at your house. Anger can cause you to lose focus on the matter at hand, dealing with the investigation. If you deal with the concerns effectively, DCF may be inclined to close the case with no issue. If you remain angry and they can’t get you to deal with the issues they may opt for further intervention.

2. Do insist on details about the investigation.

When DCF arrives, start the conversation yourself by asking to be told what is in the investigation. You should ask them to read it to you as they will often have the report with them. Do not start by answering their questions. Insist on knowing what is being said. This way you will not how to tailor your answers. Also, be sure to get the name of the DCF social worker, the social worker’s supervisor, and the supervisor’s program manager and keep that information for your records.

3. Do ask the DCF social worker what you have to do to resolve their concerns.

DCF is there for a particular reason. It is important to find out what you need to do to resolve their concerns with you. You do this by asking. You don’t have to do everything they ask but you need to be sure that you are addressing the issues of safety, and the care of the children. For example, if the doctor called because you haven’t followed through with recommended treatment for your child, then schedule an appointment with the doctor to determine the best course of treatment, and follow-through. You can then ask the doctor to send an updated letter to DCF regarding how you addressed the concern and are now in compliance with treatment.

4. Do “DCF-proof “ your home.

DCF will come to your home to interview you and your children, but they are also looking to see how you keep your home. DCF is not interested in décor and color schemes, but they are looking for physical signs of neglect in the home. The home visit will no doubt be announced so you will have time to “DCF-proof” your home. Start by doing a general clean up, clearing up clutter or any trash. Clear out any alcohol bottles and any signs of a party so they don’t think that the kids are exposed to alcohol abuse. If there are areas of your house that are in need of repair, ensure that it is closed off to the children so they are not exposed to any hazard. Ensure that the kids’ rooms are tidy, and toys are seen but put away. Again, the idea is not to prove you can keep a clean home at all times, but to show that you care about the home environment enough to keep it safe for your children.

5. Do offer letters from the school, the doctor or other service providers rather than sign a release.

Many of us know that HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) protects your medical and mental health information. (See https://portal.ct.gov/AG/Health-Issues/Health-Information–Services/Your-Rights-Under-HIPAA) You also have a right to privacy afforded to us under the Fourth Amendment. This ultimately means even a state agency like DCF can’t access to your private information without your approval. DCF will ask you for a release allowing them unrestricted access to your most private information. You don’t have to do that in order to get them the information. You can ask the DCF worker to list specifically what information they are seeking to alleviate any concerns and then ask that provider to write a letter answering those specific questions. For example, if DCF wants to ensure that your child attends school regularly, have the school write a letter regarding your child’s attendance. There is no need to open your life to DCF completely. You can simply give them the information that they need to close your case.

6. Do not allow DCF to speak with your children alone.

If you allow DCF into your home, they will ask to speak with your children alone. I suggest that you stay in the room or at least in the general vicinity. You want to hear what has been asked of child, so that after DCF is gone, you help your child process what actually happened. It also, allows the child to feel a level of protection as they are being questioned by a stranger. Many DCF workers are trained on how to speak with children, but nevertheless, it can be traumatic to have a stranger ask them about what is happening in their home. Stay close by and be a support to your child.

7. Do not insist on knowing who called DCF on you.

It is instinctual and justified to want to know who made the call to DCF. Who caused DCF to come to your house and disrupt your home? The issue is the caller can request to remain anonymous. I understand the reasoning. Just like whistleblower laws, you want people to come forward and report abuse or neglect of any child so that the child can get help. There is no way to ensure that only valid calls of abuse or neglect are made, and therefore this privilege of anonymity extends to truthful calls as well as malicious calls. The DCF investigator has to keep that information confidential if the caller requested confidentiality.

On the other hand, have the DCF worker read to you what is noted in the report. Often, you can tell who made the report by what was actually reported. Spend your energy by focusing on how to get DCF to close their case without further intervention.

8. Do not ignore the call from DCF all together.

There are some who would say, “just ignore the call and they will go away.” I compare that advice to ignoring the check engine light on your car dashboard assuming that with time it will go away. In either instance, it may not go away until to you do something about it. You can answer the call, to determine the issue and then make a decision on how you should proceed. Ignoring the call could cause DCF to take further action just to ensure the child’s safety. I have seen investigations span months simply because the investigator couldn’t find the family.

9. Do not try to provide an explanation or justification for everything.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” We associate these rights with what a police officer is required to tell you once you are in police custody. I apply these rights to everything you say to a DCF social worker. EVERYTHING you say can be used against you. Your efforts to explain what happened or justify your actions may be construed very differently by a DCF social worker. It is best to answer only the question asked of you and when DCF notes its concern say “I understand.” “I understand” doesn’t admit to any issue nor does it deny the issue. “I understand” doesn’t mean you agree. It simply means you acknowledge the issue and are ready to move forward with resolving the concern.

10. Do not lie about any facts.

Sometimes, the truth is hard to face or admit to when confronted. There may be an instinct to lie. Do not lie about any fact, especially those that can be proven. If you smoke marijuana, don’t deny it. You could eventually be court-ordered to take a substance abuse test that will come back positive. It will only be used against you later on by claiming you lack insight into the issue.

Moreover, DCF will have difficulty trusting the things you say that are actually true. DCF needs to establish that your children are at risk or have been abused by your behavior. Let them find the facts, but don’t lie.


This is not an exhaustive list of dos and don’ts for when DCF initiates an investigation of your family. It is not intended to be legal advice for any particular case. The purpose is to give you some additional insight as to how to handle yourself when DCF comes to your home. If you choose to handle it on your own or call an attorney (like me!), you should be aware of what to do so that the situation is not made worse. Take time to review the DCF website, and educate yourself. Knowledge is power!

What to Do If DCF Calls You – Parents’ Right to Know


In our previous post (see: https://www.thechristielawfirm.com/post/what-to-do-if-dcf-calls-you) we discussed the general outline of a DCF investigation. It is good to understand what to expect when DCF begins an investigation regarding you and your family. In Part 2, we will review the parents’ rights to know. This post is to give you a general outline of what is included in the Parents Right to Know brochure and some implications. (See: https://portal.ct.gov/DCF/Multicultural-Affairs/Parents-Right-to-Know) This is not to give you the legal advice you need in dealing with DCF. However, we do hope that you will see how important your rights are as a parent, and not be afraid to exercise those rights.

Outline of the brochure

One of the first things you notice when you research the DCF website for the Parents Right to Know is that it is provided to you in eight different languages. (See https://portal.ct.gov/DCF/Multicultural-Affairs/Parents-Right-to-Know). If an agency takes the time to translate a document in eight different languages it is a strong indication that it is important for everyone to know. My advice is if DCF calls you, first take the time to read the document in the language you understand best.

Here are the initial rights as outlined in the brochure:

“In accordance with Connecticut law, you have the following rights regarding your child ________________.”

“You are not required to permit a DCF employee to enter your residence. You are not required to speak with a DCF employee.”

Implications: You can choose to meet DCF somewhere other than your home or you can opt to not meet with DCF at all. The implications are that if DCF feels that the situation requires seeing the home and speaking to the family in order to ensure that the children are safe, they may seek Juvenile court intervention. You will have to decide if you want to take that risk depending on your situation.

“You are entitled to seek the advice of an attorney and to have that attorney present when a DCF employee questions you.”

Implications: You can ask them to wait until you get advice from an attorney. DCF will not wait for an extended period of time, but it does give you an opportunity to at least consult with an attorney. You may also have an attorney present with you at home or anywhere you choose to meet with DCF. I have often done this with my clients. It helps to have an advocate there from the very beginning so that the investigation doesn’t go in the wrong direction.

“Any statement you or your family members make to a DCF employee may be used against you in court or administrative proceedings.”

Implications: This is absolutely true! You may think you are explaining the situation for yourself. However, DCF could read that explanation as further evidence of neglect or abuse. It is important to answer only the questions asked of you or seek the assistance of an attorney to help you decide what you should or should not say.

“A DCF social worker is not an attorney and cannot provide you with legal advice.”

Implications: This is true, but I have seen where DCF workers may “suggest” what you should do regarding your children. They will never say “my legal advice to is…” However, telling you how to handle a custody situation is legal advice. Be careful in regards to taking any legal action in court at the advice of a DCF worker. The concern is if called to testify in court, a DCF SW could deny giving you legal advice as they are not lawyers. It will appear as though you are using them to meet your own legal agenda.

“You are not required to sign any document presented to you by a DCF employee and you are entitled to have your attorney review any document before you sign it. This includes, for example, a release of claims or a service agreement.”

Implications: This is correct and you should exercise this right. You should find out what DCF needs to know about you or your children, and then provide that information in writing to them without signing a release. For example, if they need to know if the kids are up to date medically, ask their doctor’s office to write a letter for you to that effect, then provide that to DCF. DCF may ask you to sign safety agreements or service agreements in order to provide a safeguard for your children. These have serious legal consequences and you need to seek the advice of an attorney before signing any agreements.

“Please be advised that choosing not to communicate with a DCF employee may have serious consequences, which may include DCF filing a petition to remove your child from your home. It is, therefore, in your best interests to either speak with the DCF employee or immediately seek the advice of an attorney.”

Implications: This is also correct. DCF has a tremendous task and that is to safeguard the children that come to their attention or that are in their care. Any time a child dies in CT from abuse, the first question asked: “what did DCF do to protect this child?” It is scary to know a child was severely abused or neglected while you were the social worker on the case. Knowing this, a DCF social worker will often do what is necessary to ensure that the child is safe even if means filing petitions against you. If the situation is serious, and you are afraid to deal with it alone, you should call an attorney for assistance. One who knows about DCF and has practiced in this area. Too much is at stake for someone who is not clear on how to handle the case.

There are other rights, noted in the brochure. These rights are to be insisted upon regardless of the nature of the investigation. No parent is perfect, and children do not come with instructions! Therefore, parents will make mistakes and some of those mistakes may come to DCF’s attention. In any event, insist on the following rights when dealing with DCF. Do not allow anyone to make you feel as if you are not deserving of the right to be your child’s parent.

The additional rights are:

  1. “You have the right to be treated with respect and dignity.”
  2. “You have the right to have an interpreter present to assist you to understand all of the proceedings in your case.”
  3. “You have the right to request that all of the documents related to your case be translated into your primary language.”
  4. “You have the right to request and receive thorough and understandable answers to any questions you may have about the Department’s involvement with your family.”
  5. “You have the right to have any person of your choosing (such as a friend, relative or clergyperson) present during meetings with DCF unless a court order forbids the involvement of that person.”
  6. “You have the right to request and receive the information contained in the Department’s records about the investigation and findings concerning you and your child(ren). Access to the identity of the person(s) who reported suspected abuse or neglect may be restricted.”
  7. “You have the right to privacy. Records regarding you and your family will not be publicly released by the Department without your permission unless authorized by law. However, information may be disclosed to other agencies for investigation, treatment or other purposes as permitted by law.”
  8. “You have the right to have information about your case expunged under certain circumstances.”
  9. “You have the right to contact the DCF Ombudsman’s Office for assistance in resolving any dispute you may have with DCF staff, providers or foster parents. The Ombudsman can be reached from 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. Monday thru Friday at (860) 550-6301.”

All of the rights noted above are important in every case. However, how you exercise these rights can have different consequences because each case is treated differently based on the facts presented. For example, DCF’s approach to your child missing too many days from school will be very different than their approach to a report of sexual abuse. The key is to understand your rights and take whatever steps necessary to protect your family. In some cases, you could probably handle DCF on your own as the situation may not be serious. However, if it is serious and you don’t handle correctly, DCF may take an approach that could lead to Juvenile Court. Advocating for yourself is important, but when dealing with an agency like DCF you may want to find someone who can advocate with you. Your family’s future may depend on it.

Contact our office if you need help: (860) 461-7494 or email: family1st@thechristielawfirm.com.

Daddies and the Family Court

Whether you are like Kevin, the father in my first blog post, or a dad who just wants more time with your child, you may need a Family Court to help you with that goal. Fathers have just as much right to have time with their children as mothers do. However, I have seen many fathers feel frustrated by the court process. I believe the key is to know what to expect in Family Court and being prepared to present your case. We will go over some essential information and tips so you can be as prepared as possible when you go to Family Court. This is not intended to be legal advice, but just helpful information so you know what to expect if you are representing yourself in Family Court.

Family Court Structure and Tips

Family Court is a dedicated court to address the legal matters of divorce, child custody, child support, and restraining orders. In any court, you will find judges, family relations officers, the clerk’s office, a court services center, and marshals. Each has a crucial role, and if you understand their position, it will help you navigate the system better. This blog post is not a complete outline of the system, but to offer some tips on how to handle yourself in court. Each case is different, so no one answer fits all scenarios. However, as Sir Francis Bacon once said: “knowledge is power.” Don’t allow a lack of information to hinder your efforts in being able to spend time with your children.

The Judge

Judges are the final arbitrator on the family court matter at the Superior Court level. They decide the outcome of the case if the parties do not reach an agreement. The Judge will listen to the evidence, hear the arguments by the parties, and then render a decision. The Judge is governed by what we call rules of evidence. https://www.jud.ct.gov/Publications/code2000.pdf. This means not everything you want to come into evidence will be allowed. Only those things that are reliable and relevant to the case and do not violate any of the rules. This can be tricky for anyone new to the court system, but the Judge may remind parties of the rules if she chooses.

  • TIP: make sure when you are presenting your case, you only present facts, and be sure you actually have the proof with you. Text messages, emails, and eye-witnesses are some of the best evidence available to you. Make sure you have three copies of everything: one for the court, one for the opposing side, and one for your use while in court.

Family Relations

Before, going to the Judge, the parties are allowed to speak with a Family Relations Officer. Their role is “to assist the Court and clients in the timely and fair resolution of family and interpersonal conflicts through a comprehensive program of alternative dispute resolution services, case management, evaluation, and education.” (See https://www.jud.ct.gov/Publications/FM211.pdf) The family relations have more time to listen to the two of you and they are not bound by the rules of evidence. Their job is not to make the parties agree, but to find a way to reach a solution. If the parties cannot agree, then the matter may be referred to Family Relations for an evaluation. They will complete an investigation and make a recommendation to the Judge. You may be stuck with the recommendation or have to find a means by which to convince a judge that this is not the right recommendation.

  • TIP: When speaking with family relations, never use the words “my child.” It is better to say, “our child.” This will indicate to the family relations officer that you understand that this child has two parents, and both have an equal interest in having a relationship with the child. Try to be reasonable in all of your requests. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and make sure what you are asking is something you could live with if the shoe were on the other foot. This way, the Family Relations Officer could inadvertently become an advocate. They may say to the opposing party that your request is reasonable and ask what the barrier to an agreement is. The other party may look bad by not agreeing.

Clerk’s Office

The clerk’s office is the keeper of the court records and they understand firsthand the flow of the work that occurs in the courthouse. If you need copies of any prior court orders, you can start there. They will also be able to tell you where you need to go on your court date. When I was a new prosecutor, I decided to make friends in the clerk’s office. I would go in person to speak with them when I had a question and offer assistance when I could. They became a valuable source of information that I needed to do my job effectively. Never underestimate their helpfulness.

  • TIP: The Clerk’s office is not a law firm. They cannot tell you how to proceed with your case and how to get what you want from the court. They are only there to explain the court process. I have seen people become frustrated with the clerk’s office staff because they could not answer questions which are really requests for legal advice. I find the clerk’s office to be an excellent resource for understanding how the court runs. While each court is guided by the same rules and statutes, how it is executed is different everywhere. Before your court date, I suggest going to the clerk’s office after 3 pm when the day’s business is just about concluded, and ask what to expect for your court date based on the matter at hand. They will probably look it up for you, advise of the documents you need, and tell you where to go when you come. Do not wait until the morning of the court date, as they will be too busy to exercise that kind of patience.

Court Services Center

The Court Services Center is designed to help people who are representing themselves. According to the Judicial website, the Court Services Center must “provide services for self-represented parties, members of the bar, and the community at large. They are located within Judicial District Courthouses and are staffed by Judicial Branch employees trained to assist all court patrons.” (See https://www.jud.ct.gov/csc/). The staff there can answer questions related to what you need to file if you are seeking custody, visitation, or child support. They may not be able to tell you how best to present your case, and what evidence you need, but they can answer the questions relevant to where to start the process. They also have computers, printers, a fax machine, and printed guides to help you in the process.

  • TIP: Much like the clerk’s office, the Court Services Center cannot help you with legal advice. However, they can help you start the process if you are not sure where to start. You can also get all the forms that you need there, in the event you don’t have access to a printer at home. I would also advise going in the afternoon when it is not as busy. The staff will have more time and resources available to you then.

Judicial Marshal

When going to court, many will overlook the importance and role of the judicial marshal. Yes, you have to get past dealing with airport-like security checks. However, marshals serve a vital role. They are not only there to keep the peace in the courthouse, but they will be the ones to tell you if and when the court is opening up, whether it is on break, and when it is expected to reopen. This is important because you don’t want to miss your case being called by the Judge. The Judge could dismiss it for your failure to appear in front of the Judge. This means you will have to start the process all over again.

  • TIP: If you have a hostile party on the other side and you are not sure how they will behave towards you in court, stay close to a marshal. Quietly approach a marshal and let them know of your concern and they will endeavor to keep a watch over the situation. No marshal wants a disturbance in the court and they would rather know upfront what to look out for, rather than wait for it to happen unexpectedly.

There are other critical people in court, such as lawyers. Some are there on their client’s behalf, and others are appointed as Guardian ad litem. A guardian ad litem acts in the best interest of the child. She makes recommendations to the court as to how best to resolve the matter. The attorney must be appointed by the court, but the parties have to pay for their services. Cases with lawyers are often called first as lawyers tend to be busy and it is costly to have them in court all day. This means those without attorneys could be called later in the day or at times at the end of the day. Prepare to be patient.

How to Prepare for Your Court Date

Here some important steps and tips for anyone going to court, especially dads, who do not have custody. These steps and tips do not guarantee that you have the outcome you desire, but it may lessen the stress and anxiety that occurs when going to court and give a greater chance at success.

  1. On a day before your actual court date, locate the court, and figure out the parking. Every courthouse is different. Some have free parking, some have only paid-parking areas. However, for some courthouses, free parking may be a block away from the court. You need to be sure of where you are going to avoid dealing with parking tickets or arriving late because you do not know where to go.
  2. On your “field trip” to the court, locate the court services center. Inform the staff of your pending petition in court and ask them what to expect. Inquire if you need to bring any documents with you. At the very least, they will let you know where you need to report to when you come to court. They will also have brochures and other ready materials that may help determine what to ask for while in court.
  3. If you filed the petition, contact the clerk’s office at least 10 days before the court date to make sure they received proof of service. If you submitted the application, the clerk’s office should have directed you to get those documents to a marshal so that the other party can be served. This is a necessary step as the party has a right to know what you filed in court, and the Judge will not proceed without proof this was done. Therefore, you need to check back with the clerk to make sure the marshal sent the proof of service to the court. Make sure to keep the name and number of the marshal you used as you may have to track down the marshal yourself. You can find the list of marshals in the State of Connecticut on the Connecticut Judicial Website. (See https://www.jud.ct.gov/faq/marshals.htm)
  4. On your date, you will need to be directed to either wait for the court call – this is when the court calls the names on the docket to see who is present and who is ready to proceed. After your name is called, the court will either direct you to a courtroom or tell you to see family relations. As noted above, when you go to family relations, the Family Relations officer is tasked with determining if you and the other party can reach an agreement as to petition. If you can’t reach an agreement, the Judge will determine the next steps. They may send you back to family relations to try again at an agreement, ask family relations to do an evaluation, or allow you both to present evidence so that the court can make a decision.
  5. Keep your child’s best interest at the center. This is not the time to seek vindication or revenge. It is time to demonstrate what you believe is needed for your child to have a good relationship with both parents.
  6. Stay laser-focused on why you have come to court. If you are seeking to spend more time with your child, then don’t leave until a decision is made about that request. Let the other party argue and fight. It is best if you remain calm and clear about what you want to accomplish.
  7. Be ready to compromise. Honestly, the best agreements in family court are the ones where no one is completely happy with the outcome. This means both parties gave up something so that an agreement can be reached. If you stay focused on being the “winner,” you could end up losing everything you actually wanted.


I have heard that Family Court in Connecticut is a “women’s court.” The mother always gets her way, and she always ends up with the child. This, however, is a very limited view of the general purpose of the family court, which is to resolve family matters. The party that has the law and evidence on its side is more than likely to prevail. However, when it comes to children’s matters, the priority is not the satisfaction and happiness of the parents. The priority is what is the best interest of the child or children involved. If you keep this at the forefront and as the focus of your efforts, you may be able to prevail in court. In turn, this may be your best course in ensuring you give your child the best opportunity at growing up with “a daddy of his own.”

Family court isn’t the only place a father’s voice needs to be heard. There is also a Juvenile Court, which is VERY different from the Family court. I would argue the stakes are even higher in Juvenile Court, which makes a father’s involvement even more important. In part 4 of “A Daddy of My Own Series, we will discuss Daddies and DCF.

A Daddy of My Own – My Own Story

As I said in the previous post, this blog will be different, as I do not want to spend time talking about achievements. However, I do think it is important to tell my own story. I have NEVER told this story before. It is a bit scary, but I am going to do this anyway. I know I am not the only one with a story like this, and you should know why I do what I do.

Daddy Issues: It’s Not a Simple Excuse
“Daddy issues.” I really don’t like that term. It is often used to explain why a woman is having difficulty in relationships or why she is choosing the wrong guy. The problem with this phrase is that it makes one assume that if I had a good father, I would not have these relationship problems. This is simply not true. One can just have poor judgment, self-esteem issues, or inability to look past the dating pretense. Honestly, I despise the term because I actually have “daddy issues.”

My parents divorced before I turned 5 years old. My only memories of my parents together are on the holidays or when my father came to see me. I knew they were not a match made in heaven and I never had any dreams of them getting back together. Yet, it didn’t mean that I didn’t want to see my dad. He spoiled me, and I loved every minute of it!

My dad wasn’t nice to a lot of people, but he undoubtedly loved to me. One day, on a visit with my dad. He told me we are not going out for lunch. You are going to eat lunch at home as you do with your mother. I was young, but I knew with him, I would get exactly what I wanted. I stood and watched as my father made a sub sandwich for me. He asked me every step of the way what I wanted, and I told him. He asked if I wanted to have mayonnaise on it and I said yes, knowing full and well I hated mayonnaise on my sandwich (don’t judge me!). I looked at the finished product and told him I didn’t want it. The next thing you know, we were walking down the street going out for lunch. I don’t apologize for one moment for that day. I liked going out to eat and still do. It was a father-daughter moment that I will never forget. Unfortunately, it was among the last I would ever have.

When my mother and I relocated to Florida, I did not know that it would be the last time I would ever see my father. We lost touch rather quickly after the move. One day, my father did reach out, and we spoke for about 5 minutes. He told me he couldn’t talk long, but he would call the next day at a specific time. The next day came, and I forgot all about the call. I was too busy playing outside, doing what kids do. I never heard from him again. I kept blaming myself, thinking, “Why didn’t I remember and stay by the phone?” This was a remarkable burden for any kid to carry. The problem is that this kid carried it into her adulthood.

The Long-Term Ramifications
As an adult, I couldn’t trust that people would actually stick around. I always planned for their inevitable departure. I began to look at most people in my life as temporary. This meant that I did not want to invest much in any relationship. I focused on myself a lot, and it was hard to make real connections with many. It was in my early 30s that I realized that I wanted more than to be isolated and without friends or a real relationship.

Cherishing the Love Around Me
It took a while for me to see that I had a lot of people who genuinely loved me. I had a family that wasn’t going anywhere. While I didn’t grow up with my father, I had uncles that were the best father figures I could have. They showed me what it meant to be dedicated to your family. How a father makes sacrifices to ensure that everyone is cared for well. They drove me back and forth to college. They would rescue me when my car battery died – more than once! Their consistency in my life was a stabilizing force. The amazing thing is, they are still there for me even as an adult. I love them for that!

I started cultivating my friendships and now have friendships that go back more than 20 years. I can’t say that my father hasn’t left a hole, but it has undoubtedly been filled with wonderful alternatives. My faith in Christ and the love of God has done so much to help me realize that I am loved, I am cared about, and I matter to someone, God – my heavenly Father.

My Life’s Purpose
Throughout my career, I have watched children carry the burdens that their parents created. Children wondering “what I can do better so that my parents would love me more?” Children left in foster care, wondering “when will my parents bring me home?” Children caught in between custody battles trying to make each parent feel wanted. This should never be a child’s burden!!

A child’s only job as a child is being a child. They will have time to be adults and deal with all of the issues that come with adulthood in due time. They only have one time in their lives to be thoroughly cared for by their parents, and other nurturers. Only one time to know what it is like to have all their needs met without question. Only one time to live without a care in the world.

As adults, we need to own our issues and make better choices for ourselves and for our children. I know this may sound preachy, but when I remember my own pain and disappointment over my parent’s decision, I become passionate about advocating for the kids who are suffering the same.

Children are a gift from God. We should treasure them and give them every opportunity to be healthy individuals. Give them the chance to enjoy their one and only chance at childhood. Let them grow with the love and support they deserve from us. Let them just be kids and not our burden carriers.

A Daddy of My Own

I have been told that lawyers spend a great deal of time focused on themselves and their accomplishments. It may be because that bar was so hard, we want to highlight the fact we passed every chance we get! However, this blog will be a bit different. Yes, I will share information about myself, but I want to spend more time providing you with information to help you deal with your family matters. Here you will find tips and insight that you can use to advocate for yourself. Whether or not you work with an attorney, you must do your own research and learn what is essential in any matter.

Throughout my life and career, I have learned the importance of family. My role is to help you figure out what is best for you and your family and how to help yourself when you go to court. Lastly, I want to help you figure out how to put your best foot forward in any situation.

With that, I start with the true story of Kevin and his son Michael. Their names have been changed to protect the identity of everyone involved. However, Kevin agreed that it was essential to share his story. His story is one of determination, the unmet needs of a son, and demonstration of love in its purest sense.

Kevin’s Story

Kevin met Sandra in college. A mutual friend introduced them, and they made a connection. That connection led to a few sexual encounters and, eventually, a pregnancy. Kevin, just a college student, was admittedly not ready for parenthood. He was not in a serious relationship with Sandra and, therefore, didn’t see a future. Regrettably, his initial reaction to the pregnancy “you’re getting an abortion right?” Sandra initially agreed, but changed her mind, as was her right, and decided to keep the baby. Kevin did not know that this was happening until he got a call from the hospital that Sandra was having his baby. He was not happy at all and refused to be involved. This was not a bright moment for Kevin. He did not own up to the responsibility he created during his “connections” with Sandra. Leaving Sandra to raise Michael on her own.

Kevin was to some a “deadbeat dad.” Kevin hated that term and thought he should do so something about it. Some time goes by, and Kevin realizes, “wait, I have a son.” He figures he should at least spend some time with him. Sandra had since relocated to Connecticut, but Kevin remained in his home state. Kevin reached out to Sandra and asked to visit with Michael. The visits began, and things are going well. Then Kevin starts to have difficulty in keeping a job and working a car. He often has to cancel his visit, as he did not have a reliable means of transportation.

Visitation was not Kevin’s only issue. By that point, Sandra filed for custody in family court. Kevin was given the notices, but he did not understand the importance of coming to court. As a result, Sandra ends up with sole custody by default. A default judgment happens when only one party does not come to court, and the other party does appear. The other party can have an opportunity to ask the court for whatever orders she wishes. The court may grant it because there is no one there to oppose the request. Kevin decided he was not in a position to fight, and so he does nothing for several years.

Time goes on, and Kevin stabilizes, and he is doing well in life. He has a good job, his own place, and a reliable car. For many, this would be enough to say, “I am doing well.” Yet, Kevin sees that he can’t be pleased as he cannot be his whole self. Kevin is not just a good employee, and a productive citizen, he is someone’s father. He is Michael’s father. If Kevin is going to be a complete person, he has to find a way to be a part of Michael’s life. This means dealing with Sandra and all of the pain and disappointed he caused her.

Kevin begins again
Kevin begins his quest by sending emails to Sandra. He does not have her current phone number, and so uses what he has: an email. Sandra is non-responsive to many of his emails. Eventually, she tells Kevin that Michael is stable; she has a fiancé, and introducing Kevin into their lives will only be disruptive. Kevin can understand the intrusion, but he realizes that he cannot allow Sandra to have the final say. He realizes that he may have to go back to court as Sandra is not receptive to his requests.

Kevin does some research and decides to at least sit with an attorney; me! We talked at length about the nature of his relationship with Sandra and his goals about hiring an attorney. Kevin was determined to try, but he is not sure of the outcome. After our meeting, Kevin realizes all he can do his try and see what happens. He doesn’t have a lot of hope, but he is not ready to give up.

Court Process
We file our motions in court so that Kevin can modify the sole custody and, more importantly, gain visitation with Michael. The first court date is immediately met with opposition. Sandra remains angry about Kevin’s reaction to her pregnancy and the fact he has not been present. She is married now and expecting her third child. Adding Kevin to the mix is not want she wanted to do. After meeting with Family Relations in Court, it was determined that Kevin and Sandra will engage with a visitation agency to start supervised visitation between Kevin and Michael. This way, a third party can make a recommendation as to how to proceed with Kevin having more significant parenting time with Michael.

The Moment of Truth
It takes some time to locate a facility. Kevin was encouraged to continue working towards finding a facility, and he did. The first visit is scheduled. Kevin is prepared. He has snacks. Kevin is ready to answer his son’s questions. He is prepared to see his son again after having no contact with him for several years.

Sandra brings Michael to the visit. The person supervising the visits has had a prior opportunity to meet with Michael and explain the purpose of him coming. The supervisor said to Michael that Kevin is his “biological dad,” thus making very clear this distinction between Kevin and Michael’s step-father.

There is an awkward moment where Kevin is not sure if he should shake Michael’s hand or give him a hug. Then there is the question for Michael of whether he should call Kevin “dad” or “Kevin.” This was an awkward moment for both until Michael realizes for himself what is happening. Michael begins to cry and says to Kevin, “I finally have a daddy of my own.” Michael explained that each of his siblings can see their dad, but he did not. It is at this moment that Kevin realizes the importance of his fight. It is not about a contest with Sandra or being called a deadbeat dad. It is about his son.

Kevin’s two-hour visit includes a serious question and answer session. Michael wants to learn more about his father and wants to know what he does in his life. Yet, the most critical question for Michael is, “When will be the next time I see you?” Kevin has so much more hope at this point. He knows that he made the right decision. He knows that while going to court was not his first choice, he had to do something, or nothing would change.

Kevin’s initial reaction to Sandra’s pregnancy was not good. His subsequent decision not to stay involved with Michael cost him significant time away from his son. However, your past mistakes do not have to define your future. We can’t delete our errors, and we will have to deal with the consequences. However, you can decide to do whatever you need to, to learn from those mistakes, and move forward.

The family court system is designed to allow individuals to represent themselves. You know your case, and you know what you want. Whether you do it on your own or hire me to help you, please do not give up on having a relationship with your child. Every child deserves a “daddy of their own.”