What to Expect in Dependency Court – San Joaquin County

The First Court Hearing

If your child has been removed, the first hearing must happen the day after the petition was filed. If your child was not removed, the first hearing must be held no later than 15 days after the petition is filed.

At the first hearing a few different things will happen. First, if you cannot afford a lawyer, the judge will appoint one for you. The judge will also appoint a lawyer for the other parent of your child if he or she shows up for the first court hearing. Most counties will also appoint an attorney for your child. 

Important: The attorney client relationship is a special one. First, your communications with your attorney are confidential, which means that the attorney cannot tell anyone else what you talk about unless you say it is okay. Your attorney talks to you about the law and how it applies to the facts of your case. And your attorney is your voice in court and presents your position to the judge. If there has been a break down in your relationship with your attorney and you do not feel like he or she is representing your interests, you can ask the judge to appoint a new attorney for you.

The social worker will be at the first hearing. He or she also has an attorney, often called the county counsel or agency attorney. Before the court hearing the social worker will provide all the attorneys and the judge with the petition and the written report that talks about the reasons the petition was filed. The petition has a list of things that are numbered, like A-1 or B-1. These are called allegations, and they summarize what the social worker thinks is going on with your and your children.

If your child has been removed, the first hearing is called the detention hearing and the judge will decide whether your child can go home right away. This is the first time the judge will be asked to make sure that your child is safe. If your child can’t go home right away, the judge will make orders about when and where you can visit your child.

The judge may also ask you some questions about whether your child may be a member of a Native American tribe. The questions about connections to a tribe are important because of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). If you have Indian ancestry or think you are a member of a tribe, make sure that you tell your social worker(s) and your attorney.

The judge will ask you about the child’s other parent, if that parent is not at the hearing. This means that the court will ask if there is a father or another person who qualifies as a parent to the child. The questions about the other parent are needed to find out who your child’s legal parents are. Click for information on Rights of Fathers and Other Parents to find out more about parentage and paternity in juvenile court.

If your child has been removed you have the right to argue against the removal (detention) of your child. The hearing where you argue against your child being removed will take place a few days after the first hearing. It is called the jurisdiction. (1)

If you and/or your child are undocumented, please click here for more information.

Appropriate Court Behavior

  • If you are able, you should make an effort to dress appropriately for court. Appropriate court dress is: shoulders covered, no jeans, tattoos and piercings covered, dresses or skirts should hit the knee or below, wear a dress shirt (no t-shirts, jerseys, tanktops, etc.).
  • The judge should always be addressed as, “your honor”.
  • Do not speak in court unless the judge clearly instructs you to or if you are quietly and quickly communicating with your lawyer.
  • Never interrupt anyone while they are speaking.
  • You should not use your phone in court. Turn it off before entering into the courtroom.
  • Do not eat or drink in court.