UPDATE: Potter Law Firm does not participate in suing DCS. If you believe you are a victim of False Reporting, you MUST file a police report. Further, you need to quote the statute to the police (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-707, 13-802.) in order for them to make the report. Additionally, if you think someone is filing false reports on you, it is proactive to call DCS yourself and alert them of the name of the person, and why you think they will make a false report against you.
Before I began a sole practice in earnest, I worked a contract for the Arizona Dept. of Child Safety – more often known by their former letters: CPS. It’s close to the IRS for most maligned state agency (although the National Security Agency is trying), and like the IRS, it’s a necessity. I still don’t know the inner workings of the tax collectors, but my 9 months inside DCS gave me an insight to how the agency works, and the people who do a very hard and often thankless job. I’ve also had a view of the failings and flaws in their work. Now that my work there is done, I want to address a rare but dangerous problem: false reporting.
DCS exists to protect children from dangerous environments created directly by, or due to the neglect of, the parents or guardians of the child. This power to take a child away from the parents is in constant tension with the parents rights over and to their own child. No one is happy to have a government official take away anything of theirs, but to take away a child leaves parents scared and desperate. Often, these are temporary custody situations, where the child is placed with a relative guardian while the danger is assessed, and often returned to the parents. Many times, this danger is from drugs, and DCS provides rehab, counseling, and resources for parents who need help.
Let me assure you – there are very dangerous situations for children in the city of Phoenix, and there are parents whose behavior would terrify you. The people inside DCS all know how bad it can be – and whenever a child dies while under DCS investigation, every single employee of the agency is sent an email of what happened. It’s a constant reminder of what is at stake. Yet with so much riding on this, DCS budgets are always on the chopping block – case managers and parent aids are stretched thin and over-worked. Our new governor, Doug Ducey, has promised to cut the budgets further, leaving more children in danger, and fewer investigators to work on cases.
Although it is rare, sometimes these investigations are triggered by one of the parents against the other parent, during or after divorce, without a legitimate basis. The intent is often to use a DCS case to influence a custody outcome in family court – to move the ball closer to the goal. Sometimes this is done after a divorce, as part of a strategy to petition the court for a change in custody – and other times it’s done while a divorce is pending.
I’ve spent time preparing court documents in these cases, and it doesn’t work. A report can trigger an investigation, but the process will uncover a false report over substantial danger to a child. This discovery will be reported to the judge and any court appointed advisors in the family law case – in other words, it’s going to cause a lot of pain, expense, trauma for the entire family, and will mostly likely backfire. Filing a false report with DCS is a Class 1 misdemeanor and is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-707, 13-802.) I’ve seen this happen.
The greater tragedy is that each false report takes attention away from real danger to children in frightening circumstances. As resources are stretched thin, the time it takes to uncover a false report drains the time and budget that should be used on cases where there is an ongoing danger to the child’s physical or emotional well being. DCS is there for the children of this state, not to be a used as a tool for parents working out their anger. Additionally, a DCS investigation won’t just stop once it’s been started, so the children will also be dealing with investigations, examinations, case workers asking them a lot of questions, and you ultimately run the risk of having the child removed from both parents, and placed into foster care.
If you are in a divorce, or have an existing custody agreement, and you have problems with the other parent – how they live or who they live with – there are other options. Mediation is a way parents can work through problems without court involvement. Private mediators can find resolutions for a lower cost than court involvement, and they can do it faster – which saves in the emotional costs to you and the children. Look into mediation before doing something you may regret. Think twice before filing a false report with DCS.
REMINDER: Mediators are NOT certified in Arizona – so ask about your mediator’s background and training. Are they knowledgeable in child issues? Are they a licensed attorney? Do they have a behavioral health background? Some conflicts are more about legal issues, and some are more about the psychology of the parents – so choose the right mediator for the problem. I am a Texas certified mediator with a high resolution rate in both civil and family matters. Contact the Potter Law Firm, we can help.
-Trail T. Potter, Esq.
You think a will is for the wealthy: people with houses and cars and investment accounts. You’d be surprised how many of those people still don’t have wills because they don’t think they are quite wealthy enough – or more likely, aren’t thinking about their death at all. The truth is, people of modest means need the will the most. I’ll explain that later – first, I still need to convince you that you need a will.
If you’ve worked at any permanent job, you may have some kind of retirement account, even if it’s small. You have a bank account, maybe even a credit card. You could also inherit something from your family at any point in the future. You also have stuff, and some of it is valuable to someone, whether it’s worth money, or if it’s just something they want to remember you by. These are all reasons to have a will – even a simple will can avoid the very real possibility it will all be lost. I’ll explain why – but you still don’t think you need a will.
But even without all that stuff (a house, investment accounts, collectibles), you have more than you think.
You have a facebook account? Or emails? Some kind of cloud-based drive for storing documents or pictures? Still on myspace or friendster? Did you make some videos and upload them to youtube? Blog Posts? Writings, messages, your status as moderator of reddit? This is your digital life – or as we think of it, your intellectual property. Yes, all of the words and pictures and videos and messages are part of your estate – and if you don’t deal with it now, it’s going to be a terrible nightmare for the people left behind. This includes everything on your smartphone, too.
Do you want your mom to have all this access? Every Account? The law hasn’t settled this yet – some websites don’t allow a transfer of ownership at all. We aren’t quite sure what will happen to your account after you die. You need to designate a digital executor – someone you name to carry out your wishes – and have a plan for giving this person access to your online life. This will not happen automatically, because the law hasn’t figured this out yet. Banks and property holders know what to do for an executor with a court order because these institutions have been around for centuries – but facebook is still working out their own policies regarding the grant of access for next of kin. The NSA demands for emails and postings didn’t help open up social media to cooperating with courts, either.
The old joke – “When I Die, Delete My Browser History” – well that may not be a bad idea. But if you don’t set that up ahead of time, your browser history, selfies, those pics you send on snapchat, will all be found by a next-of-kin, maybe a sibling or parent. I’m not implying that everyone has a secret life on message boards or camming for extra money – but your digital life is complex, and if you don’t make a plan for who is going to handle it, you leave a lot to chance.
This is all part of a will. It’s not just a document that says where the money goes – it’s all your last instructions, what you want done, how you want to be memorialized, etc. Trust me; it’s going to make life easier for the people who love you.
Having grown up in a blended family myself with step and half siblings from both my parents, as well as the blended family I created with my wife, I personally understand the wide variety of complex challenges families face. Items such as wills and trusts, adoption, guardianships, property issues, investigations by CPS, being sued as well as the need for Divorce and Custody/Child Support litigation. Having a professional guide you through the legal process will help keep the pressure from negatively affecting your work, your relationships, and your family. My tag line, “We’ll get you through it,” is my commitment to my clients.
I have long been an ally of the Marriage Equality fight and celebrated the fall of DOMA with my many friends. Not everyone fits into the neat little molds created by the majority. I believe that justice and the protection of law applies to everyone. If your family is just a little outside the box, or maybe your lifestyle requires a special understanding, you have a friend in the law field with me, Trail Potter.
Utilizing my negotiation skills from national competitions in both undergrad and law school, I apply those skills to conflicts and problems that affect families and individuals who may become overwhelmed by legal problems. While at South Texas College of Law, I became a Certified Mediator. Legal judgments can have lifetime consequences, so select a lawyer who will explain all the options available.
I use a holistic approach to the valuation of legal services through a careful balance of necessary costs and unbundled legal services. Free 30 minute consultation is just a phone call away to assess your case and provide basic options.
We here at the Potter Law Firm wish to congratulate the newly married couples who can finally enjoy what the Supreme Court called a Fundamental Right, way back in Loving v. Virginia, 1967. Trail Potter has been an Ally of the Marriage Equality fight since Hawaii first allowed same sex marriage, and we celebrated the fall of DOMA with our friends. We wish you all the best and we are happy to see you share in what so many of us have taken for granted for so long. Have amazing weddings here in Arizona – as always, we’ll get you through it.
Family Structures are Complex, and require Flexible Conflict Solutions
Often, a divorcing couple is only aware of one way to end the marriage: going to Trial. Faced with the time and expense of Litigation, many couples will choose to take the matter into their own hands, downloading the forms found online, or using the services of a Document Preparer. However, there are other options that provide more legal guidance while still controlling costs and letting parties control the un-coupling process.
Divorcing couples can select a mediator to assist with negotiating a settlement. A good mediator is trained to focus the negotiations on the divorcing couple’s core interests, while keep the expectations realistic. However, the Mediator is neutral, and does not provide legal advice to one party against the other.
Courts will often order Mediation – but you can choose to Mediate without court involvement, and select the Mediator who is right for you. Arizona does NOT license Mediators, so inquire about your Mediators experience and training. A good divorce Mediator will be knowledgeable in Family Law and Interest Based Negotiation.
Collaborative Law Practice
The newest innovation in Divorce Law is the Collaborative approach, where both spouses are represented by their own attorney, but all sides commit to a cooperative process, resulting in a custom divorce agreement that suits their needs. The process is confidential, faster, and costs are kept down by reducing litigation expenses.