Articles Posted in Dependency Issues

The death of a four-year-old girl, Kristina Hepp has raised new questions about how cases handled by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) are handled. Kristina was born in July 2004 to her mother Elizabeth Hepp, 16-year-old, and immediately concerns were raised over the care of the child.

DCF contracted with Partnership for Strong Families (PSF), a private group, to manage Kristina’s case. Kristina was allowed to stay with her mom, but caseworkers visited routinely. Elizabeth was ordered to take parenting classes and have routine drug tests. In addition, she was ordered to disclose who the father of Kristina was. Paternity tests confirmed that Matthew Roland was the father.

Criminal background checks reveal that Roland, 22, had a criminal history that dated back to 2000, and included charges involving drugs, burglary, battery, and violation of probation. Records show that PSF was required to develop a case plan to help Roland parent Kristina. At that same time, Elizabeth’s attorney requested that her case be closed because she had successfully completed her case plan. Judge David Glant, who was assigned to the case, granted the request. However, DCF’s records indicate that Elizabeth’s case plan was not complete, and that Roland’s case plan was never adopted by the court.

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney

Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

1164983_happy_family_.jpgFlorida Department of Children and Families is the state entity responsible for protecting children from abuse, neglect, and other actions that are detrimental to the child’s well-being. When DCF gets involved with a family, they typically start an investigation to determine the truth of the allegations. If the State feels that there are issues, but they do not warrant the child being removed from the home, they may request the family to participate in programs or a case plan under DCF supervision. If a family refuses their services, then DCF may find that without the offered services, the child is in harm and needs to removed from the home. Once that determination is made, DCF may file a Petition for Shelter with the court.


Florida children that are the product of divorce are now a familiar with

visitation planning. Florida timesharing plans came into law in 2008 and

were introduced to help ease the need for a custodial parent to be

Florida paternity is established by marriage or the Court, not by signing a Birth Certificate. A Birth Certificate does nothing more than give the presumption that you are, in fact, the father of your child. If you are not married to the mother ( at least 10% of couples living together are not married), then the Court does not recognize you as the baby’s daddy.

To establish your rights to the child, it is important that you speak with an attorney so that your child does not grow-up without you. What you need to ask your attorney:

1. How do I file a Petition to Establish Paternity?

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Family Law Attorney

Are you paying child support after your rights have been terminated? Child support, according to Florida law, is the right of a child with parents living in separate households. The child support obligation begins at the child’s birth if the parents are not married, even if paternity has not been established. Once paternity is established, the Court can go back two years, within the life of the child, for back child support.

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Florida Family Law Attorney

As an attorney Jacksonville, Florida I have handled stepparent adoptions and seen the incredible impact and purpose it has for a family. If you are married and your child views your spouse as their parent, then you are probably wanting to pursue a stepparent adoption action. Whether you were previously married or had a child out of wedlock, and the other parent has not been in your child’s life, then your current spouse and you may have discussed a stepparent adoption.

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Florida Family Law Attorney

In Jacksonville, Florida, as a family law attorney, I receive questions about terminating parental rights. This is not an easy process since there are many protections in place for parents. I will probably do a series of blogs on this topic in order to cover each area, but we will start with the consent and agreement of both parties.

1195577_us-1.jpgWHO IS MICHAEL JACKSON’S BABIES’ MAMA??? In fact, who is Michael Jackson’s babies’ father??? News reports have surfaced that neither Debbie Rowe nor Michael Jackson are the biological parents of the three Jackson children. Thus the question arises: Who Will Get Custody of These Children? News reports are stating that Debbie Rowe served as a surrogate mother to the children meaning that her egg was not used in the fertilization of the children nor was Michael Jackson’s sperm. Reports are that the children were conceived in vitro using donor eggs and donor sperm. Legally speaking, this really should not make much difference in terms of custody of the children as the children are considered heirs at law of Michael Jackson and his mother will probably be the most likely candidate to gain custody and control of the children and their interests. What this news does do is eliminate Debbie Rowe as a possible candidate for custody of the kids as she served only as an incubation chamber and has no real biological ties to the children. If you or your loved one has a question about custody, paternity, child support or any other issue in Duval, Clay, Nassau or St. Johns Counties, please contact our firm at 904-355-8888 for help in addressing these important complex matters.

International adoptions are popular not only among Madonna and Angelina Jolie, but Jacksonville, Florida residents as well. As a family law attorney I have clients call once they adopted out of the country and they want to make certain their adoption is legal in the U.S. and in Florida.
Once a child is adopted by a foreign court that document finalizing the adoption can be accepted by the Florida courts as well. The procedure for doing so is important to protect yourself and any issues that may arise regarding that child.
The Florida courts do recognize foreign decrees, foreign orders, but you must petition the court to recognize the decree or order. It is best to speak with an attorney regarding this matter to make certain that all requirements are met from the beginning to speed up the finalization of your adoption which has clearly been a long time coming at this point.

International adoptions, like Madonna’s, have made the news for years in Jacksonville, Florida and throughout the country. As a family law attorney in Jacksonville, I have clients call to find out the process for such adoptions.
The reality is, as evident in Madonna’s current court case in Africa, each country has different adoption laws. In Malawi, where the child resides in Madonna’s case, there is a residency requirement for adoptions. That issue, not the paternity issue, is actually what’s holding things up for the adoption of Chifundo James. Madonna, feeling that celebrity and money can beat laws, is now caught up in the court system to show the best interest of the child is to be adopted regardless of the residency requirement.
This case is a good example of why the normal adopting family should first look into the laws associated with the country they would like to adopt from. You don’t want to get in a situation where you required to relocate for a significant period of time if you don’t have to. It’s best to contact an attorney where you live to help you in your process from the beginning.

Contact Information