In re A.K., 2014 WL 1696142(Fla. 2d DCA)

The father (a non-offending parent living in Tennessee), appealed the trial court’s order setting permanent guardianship and placement of father’s children with their maternal grandparents and denying father’s motion for reunification.

When the Department of Children and Families (department) moved to terminate services and request the children be placed permanently with the grandparents, the department based their request on the father not completing his case plan tasks and reuniting the children with their father would be harmful to the children. The trial court held the father had failed to complete his case plan tasks and had also abandoned his children when he moved to Tennessee.

The Second District Court of Appeal (Second DCA) held the trial court abused its discretion in failing to reunify the children and setting permanent guardianship with the maternal grandparents. As a non-offending parent, the father did not have a case plan and the goal was always reunification once the Tennessee home study and some longer unsupervised visits had occurred. Also, the accusation of abandonment by “the department not supported by the evidence and was not even alleged by the Department.” Further, the Second DCA held the “children’s preference to remain with the grandmother and merely visit the Father is not a basis on which the trial court could conclude that the ongoing transitional reunification with the Father was detrimental to their safety, well-being, or health. The closest thing to a supportable basis for such a finding is that the therapist working with the children found that the removal from their grandmother, who had been a source of stability for them over the years, would be detrimental and against the “best interests” of the children.”

The Second DCA reversed the trial court’s “order establishing a permanent guardianship and remand the matter for the entry of an order resolving this action in favor of the nonoffending Father unless there is additional evidence provided by the Department to show that circumstances have changed such that the original goal of reunification cannot occur.”

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