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What You Need to Know About Merits Hearings in Department of Social Services

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Many family law cases in South Carolina are framed not by statutes—the laws passed by the legislature—but by the administrative rules set up by the Department of Social Services (DSS).

In DSS cases, a merits hearing is a hearing to decide whether a parent or a person acting as a parent should lose his or her custody of a child and whether the child should be removed from the home. A child will not be taken away unless a judge finds that the child was abused or neglected. DSS must prove that this has occurred. The judge also will need to find that the child will not be safe in the home for the child to be removed.

In some cases an adult involved in a merits hearing may be placed in the Central Registry of Child Abuse and Neglect.

Can You Lose Custody of Your Child in a Merits Hearing?

If your child is removed he or she will be placed in foster care.

If the judge removes the child from your home, he will also order a placement plan. A placement plan essentially tells a parent or person acting as a parent what he or she needs to do to get the child back.

The placement plan will usually include things such as:

  • The services that will be offered to you, such as parenting classes, anger management programs, etc.
  • How much child support you have to pay while your child is in foster care.
  • Visitation schedules, in cases where the judge feels visitation is safe for the child.
  • Services offered to the child.
  • What else needs to be accomplished or maintained before you can have the child back such as income requirements, utilities in home, or a properly functioning home with working plumbing and electrical systems.

If you are involved in a DSS case and would like to discuss it with an attorney, please contact the lawyers at Holland & Usry by calling 864.582.0416 or toll-free at 888.230.1841 for a confidential consultation.

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