This the first post in a series we’re doing on Child Custody and Child Support cases involving DHR. We’ll update this post and others with links to the other parts of the series when they become available. This post is meant to provide general information, not legal advice. We cannot provide legal advice without learning more about your unique situation at an initial consultation, which you can book through our automated system at www.ThinkFoxtrot.com/public_calendars/.
I think a great place to start is knowing what DHR is and what their roles and responsibilities are. That’s because I see a fundamental misunderstanding regarding these concepts and that misunderstanding leads to irreparable and life-changing mistakes by parents and caregivers responding to communications from or investigations involving DHR.
So, I apologize in advance for the high school civics lesson, but it’s time to talk about the 3 branches of government in Alabama and, more importantly, your rights regarding your children when dealing with DHR.
disclaimer: The Alabama Department of Human Resources is an organization chalk-full of highly-trained, caring professionals. This post and any others like it are nothing more than objective, neutral discussions of the rights, responsibilities and respective interests of the different stakeholders in DHR Child Custody cases.
Point 1: DHR is part of the Executive Branch of Alabama government
Just like the United States federal government, Alabama has 3 branches of government which provide checks and balances against one another and provide recourse for the citizens of Alabama in expressing and protecting their own interests.
The Legislative Branch makes laws in Alabama. More specifically, they make “statutory law,” that is the law on the books, so to speak. The legislature is made up of State Representatives and State Senators. You can visit http://capwiz.com/state-al/home/ to find out who your legislators are. If you disagree with your legislators priorities or their votes on topics, you get to overthrow them every few years in little revolutions called Elections.
The Judicial Branch makes sure the other two branches of government, as well as citizens like you and me, are operating within the law. The Court system that makes up the Judicial Branch can issue orders that must be followed by everyone involved in a certain case, unless and until that order is later set aside by that same court or even a higher court, like the Court of Civil Appeals or the Alabama Supreme Court.
Lastly, there is the Executive Branch. When the Legislature “makes” the law, or a Court issues a specific order, it is the duty of the Executive Branch, literally, to execute the law. Some key examples are when (a) a statute adopted by the Legislature authorizes DHR to investigate risks to your child and even “pick up” your child from your home and place your child in Foster Care or (b) when a Court order authorizes and requires the local police to take such reasonable action to place the care and control of a child with a parent after an emergency custody hearing, that’s the executive branch executing statutory or judge-made law.
Thus, as you see from the example, DHR is part of the Executive Branch.
Point 2: The Executive Branch is responsible for enforcing the law.
A statute or court order on a piece of paper wouldn’t mean a whole lot if it didn’t authorize government actors “in the trenches” to actually get something done. These front-line government actors fall under the wider umbrella of what we call “law enforcement.” Although, we typically just use that term to refer to our local police or sheriff’s departments, it is crucial to understand that from both a technical and practical standpoint, law enforcement includes the District Attorney’s Office, Building Inspectors, and, of course, DHR.
Point 3: Knowing this matters…a lot.
Why? Because after decades of cop shows, sensational criminal trials and your buddy’s story about getting pulled over for drunk driving or getting his apartment searched after a noise complaint, we all have at least a vague understanding of “our rights” when it comes to the police. But, for some reason, there is widespread confusion, or even ignorance, when it comes to responding to DHR.
Why should this be scary? Because you know more about making sure a police officer can’t find the bag of marijuana under your car seat than whether a DHR investigator can take your child from your home and put him or her in Foster Care.
Point 4: You have constitutional rights against intrusion from DHR.
So, the moral of the story is to think of DHR the same way you do any other member of the law enforcement community. Would you call a criminal defense attorney before making a statement to police or allowing them to search your home if you were a suspect of a criminal investigation? Of course! We all know we have the right to counsel when the government tries to take our freedom.
Did you know you have almost the exact same rights to counsel when dealing with DHR? Hopefully, you do now. We’ll get into more detail as to those rights as this series of posts continues.
Are you being investigated by or involved with DHR right now? Please contact us or skip to the head of the line by going ahead and booking your initial consultation at www.ThinkFoxtrot.com/public_calendars/ .