Can a Probate and Family Court judge call the Department of Children and Families?

Produced by an AmeriCorps Project of Western Massachusetts Legal Services updated and revised Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last Updated September, 2011

I have a case in the Probate and Family Court. Can the court contact the Department of Children and Families to get information about me?

Yes. But there is a special process the court must follow to get information from DCF.

The process also applies to getting DCF information about the other parent.

When the court wants DCF information about you or you want the court to have DCF information about the other parent, you have important rights. We describe your rights in our article about the special process.

Can the Probate and Family Court give custody to DCF?

Yes. A Probate and Family Court judge can order the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to take temporary custody of your children if the judge is worried that they are not safe with either parent. The judge can do this even if neither parent wants it.

Example

You have a divorce or custody case in the Probate and Family Court and the parents accuse each other of serious drug abuse, child abuse, or violence.

This does not happen very often. If it does happen, you have the right to a lawyer.  If you cannot afford a lawyer, the court must appoint one for you. You do not have to pay the lawyer that the court appoints.  The court must tell you about your right to have a lawyer and the court must appoint a lawyer for you if you cannot afford one.

If the abusive person lies to the judge, tell the judge the truth. Tell the judge if you have witnesses or documents that can back you up.

Example

The other parent says that you are a drug abuser and this is not true. If your mother sees you every day and is in the courtroom and she can testify that she sees you every day and you are not abusing drugs, tell the judge. Or, maybe you went through rehab, attend NA regularly, and never touch drugs. Explain this to the judge and offer to bring a witness or documents to prove it.

If the judge decides to give DCF temporary custody of your child, you may want to:

  • ask the judge to reconsider his or her decision,
  • file an appeal, or
  • do both.

Warning

You do not want to do any of these things without a lawyer. Make sure you get a lawyer if you decide to do any of these things. You will need a lawyer to help you decide what to do. You will need a lawyer to do whatever you decide.

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