Guardian ad Litem Program v. M.H., 184 So.3d 1253 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016)

The Guardian ad Litem program appealed denial of termination of parental rights. The Fourth District Court of Appeal (Fourth DCA) reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

The specific question at issue before the Fourth DCA was whether proof of a guilty plea or conviction in a criminal proceeding was required for termination of parental rights under § 39.806(1)(m). Florida Statute § 39.806(1)(m) provides for termination when “the court determines by clear and convincing evidence that the child was conceived as a result of an act of sexual battery . . . The court must accept a guilty plea or conviction of unlawful sexual battery . . . as conclusive proof . . . “

Father admitted to having sexual intercourse with Mother (his step-daughter) when she was 16 years old and that she became pregnant thereafter. The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that Father committed sexual battery but the trial court was “unwilling to make a finding that a sexual battery on a minor was committed as defined by the criminal code.” As a result, the trial court denied termination under the sexual battery subsection.

The Fourth DCA found nothing in the statute requires a criminal determination of guilt to support termination of parental rights. The Fourth DCA held the trial court misinterpreted § 39.806(1)(m) and erred in denying termination.

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