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How the Arizona DCS can Impact Child Custody in a Divorce

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Children have a right to be safe. When parents and guardians fail to reasonably protect children, the state government may get involved. In Arizona, the responsibility lies on the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS).

If you are a parent under investigation by the Arizona Department of Child Safety, you may wonder what authority they have over you and your rights.

In this article, our family law attorneys will cover what Arizona Protective Services can and cannot do.

When facing a family law matter such as divorce or child custody, your situation may intersect with the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS). Known for its mission to ensure the well-being of children, DCS can step into family situations that may require intervention. They handle a range of responsibilities, from investigating allegations of child abuse or neglect to facilitating child removal processes when necessary. In the context of divorce and child custody battles, understanding the role and protocols of DCS can be crucial for all involved parties.

What This Article Covers:

  • Arizona DCS Involvement During a Divorce
  • What to Expect During an Arizona DCS Investigation
  • 5 Tips for Navigating a DCS Investigation During Divorce
  • Reasons a Child May Be Removed from a Household
  • The Arizona DCS Child Removal Process
  • Repealing an Arizona Department of Child Safety Ruling
  • Hiring a Child Custody Lawyer for an Arizona Child Protective Services Case

In the last six months alone, the Arizona Department of Child Safety received 22,265 calls that met the statutory criteria for a DCS report.

While not all cases lead to child removal, the sheer number of investigations underscores the department’s active role in family matters. This article aims to explain the DCS process, offering you  insights and tips on how to interact with this agency, especially when your family is going through a transformative period such as divorce. By understanding the procedures and your legal options, you are better equipped to face the challenges that may arise, always keeping your child’s best interests at the forefront.


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How the Arizona DCS can Impact Child Custody in a Divorce

About the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS)

The Arizona Department of Child Safety “compassioneers” aim to keep children safe and also keep families together without creating extra trauma for the children involved. 

The department’s values include:

  • Safety
  • Engagement
  • Accountability
  • Compassion
  • Change
  • Teaming
  • Family 
  • Advocacy

The department investigates claims of abuse and neglect, removing children from dangerous environments when necessary. However, they claim to do their best to keep families together when safe for the children and limit removal to keep it as short as possible.

Arizona DCS Involvement During a Divorce

Unfortunately, divorce can bring out the worst in people. It can even encourage individuals to say things they wouldn’t normally say about their ex’s parenting skills. 

No one is a perfect parent, and we all deserve a little bit of leeway for moments of frustration (within reason). However, when these accusations come up during a divorce case, can you blame the authorities for looking into things? 

The problems would probably never come up if not for the divorce. However, when they do come up, you need to handle them properly and remember that the intention is to ensure a proper environment for your children, so you should cooperate and connect to DCS based on those common goals.

What to Expect During an Arizona DCS Investigation?

If the Arizona Department of Child Safety wants to conduct an investigation, be open to the idea. If you are anticipating an investigation, contact the family law attorneys at Colburn Hintze Maletta immediately. We will guide you through the difficult process.

An investigator will come to your home and attempt to speak with your child. An investigator does not need any prior approval from a parent before conducting an interview with a child. You also aren’t legally required to be present for the interview

Interviewers do need your permission to enter your home. If you do not want to invite an investigator into your home, you are not legally obligated to do so unless they have a court order. If you don’t welcome them into your home, they may still conduct the interview elsewhere. 

The interviewer may also interview you and the other people in your household to get a complete story. They will not take a child’s word as gold. However, they are there to protect the child and will take all accusations seriously. 

If the investigator decides there is nothing to investigate, they may close the DCS case. Alternatively, they may continue the investigation.

5 Tips for Getting Through a DCS Investigation with Arizona CPS During Your Divorce

When a relationship ends, it can feel like the walls are crumbling around you. When your ex brings your children into the mix, it can feel like you’ll never be able to dig yourself out of the rubble. Don’t give up hope. Use these tips to get through a DCS investigation during your divorce.

1. Be Honest

Rather than completely denying family turmoil, it’s best to explain your side of the situation and appear open. You don’t necessarily want to release information that’s not necessary to the DCS case, but you also shouldn’t hide things.  You may have an attorney present during a DCS Interview.

Investigators understand family drama and that parenthood gets hard. They are more willing to work with someone who appears open and honest.

2. Take the High Road

You need to demonstrate your maturity throughout this process. Speak kindly of your ex and resist retaliatory behavior. You may feel good at the moment, but it may not produce the best results for your children in the end. When you take the high road, the courts will notice.

3. Avoid Social Media

It can be tempting to vent on social media. However, everything you post on social media can be used against you in your custody battles. Do not talk about your court proceedings on social media at all. Don’t even post memes that allude to your situation.

You should also avoid posting too many photos of vacationing, drinking, socializing as it can be misconstrued. You don’t have to be a saint, but you don’t need to make your life public knowledge, either.

4. Stay Out of Trouble

The best way to ruin your chances during a DSC investigation is to get in trouble during the investigation. Do not put yourself in a position where you can get arrested for any crimes, as your ex’s child custody lawyer can and will use it against you.

5. Take Every Visitation Opportunity

If Arizona Department of Child Safety arranges for visitation between you and the children, you may not like the visitation options available to you for a temporary span of time.

However, you should still take advantage of every chance you can to see your children. The judge will notice if you make the decision to skip opportunities to see your children.

Reasons a Child May Be Removed from a Household

In the last six months, the Arizona Department of Child Safety received 22,265 calls that met the statutory criteria for a DCS report. Most DCS cases don’t result in the authorities removing children from the household.

However, investigators will put children into the system in certain extreme situations in which staff believes the children will continue to suffer or need professional medical treatment, including mental health care. 

Examples of imminent harm include:

  • Untreated accidental injuries
  • No guardian present
  • Unstable caregiver

Child Abuse

One of the main reasons that a child will be removed from a residence is child abuse. In Arizona, the crime of child abuse is defined by the statute ARS 13-3623. 

ARS 13-3623 describes child abuse as knowingly or recklessly injuring a child (such as excessive discipline) or neglectfully putting a child in a position where they may become injured or ill (such as allowing children into a meth house or keeping them in a hot car with the windows rolled up). The law also applies to vulnerable adults. 

Child abuse can result in a Class 2 Felony and up to 10 years in prison in severe cases. The court considers all child abuse cases felonies as opposed to misdemeanors.


Guardians have a responsibility to make themselves properly available to their children. When a guardian fails a child due to their own negligence, the neglect becomes a criminal offense that can lead to the child being removed from a home. 

Physical neglect makes up for more than 50% of neglect cases. There are multiple forms of physical neglect, including:

  • Abandonment
  • Expulsion
  • Refusal/Delay of Health Care

The other forms of neglect include educational neglect (29%) and emotional neglect (20%).

What is the Arizona DCS Child Removal Process?

There are several professionals that you will work with during the child removal process:

  • DCS case manager 
  • DCS supervisor
  • Foster care review volunteer
  • Doctor

A “Removal Review Team” from Arizona child protective services will meet to make an initial decision about your situation as part of a mandatory review. 

Before putting the child into the state’s custody, they attempt to look for other options, such as placing the child with a relative. At the end of 2001, 24% of children in foster care lived with relatives

Once a child is removed from their home, the authorities involved must file a petition within 72 hours. The petition ensures that the parents get an attorney and a court date to state their case about why they should get their children back.


Repealing an Arizona Department of Child Safety Ruling

An investigation or temporary removal is not the last step. You have options. Here are some options you have if you want to repeal a ruling by the DCS.

Optional Review

All parents have the right to request an optional review of the removal decision. While an option, very few parents take this option. In fact, out of 7400 removals, only 49 parents requested a review (as of May 2002).

Furthermore, the Protective Services Review Team (PSRT) overturned almost 50% of cases from the years 1999 – 2001. With the right legal help, it can be done.

File a Complaint Against DCS

If you feel that your DCS case didn’t get the treatment it deserves, you can respectfully file a complaint with Arizona child protective services. 

Start by sending an email to your Arizona CPS investigator describing your concerns. All written correspondence must be properly documented. If you don’t get a response from Arizona child protective services after 2 -3 business days, you can reach out to the investigator’s supervisor. Of course, you may benefit from a family law attorney throughout this process.

Hiring a Child Custody Lawyer for an Arizona Child Protective Services Case

When the stakes are high, you need a legal team behind you to help you along the way. 

Contact Colburn Hintze Maletta at (602) 825-2500 to schedule a consultation today. Legal experts in child custody and child support can make even the most stressful situations more feasible.

With the help of a child custody lawyer from our firm, we can ensure you are able to be the parent you want to be, despite Arizona CPS.

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