Maternal grandparents appealed the denial of their petition to terminate Father’s rights and adopt their grandchild. The trial court found that Father abandoned the child both financially and emotionally but that Father did not willfully disregard the minor child’s safety. The trial court held that such a finding was necessary to terminate parental rights pursuant to Fla. Statute § 63.089(4)(a) and Beagle v. Beagle, 678 So. 2d 1271 (Fla. 1996). The Fourth DCA reversed the denial and remanded the matter to grant termination of parental rights and proceed with the adoption.
The Fourth DCA found that the trial court interpreted the definition of abandonment in Fla. Statute § 63.089(4) too narrowly. The trial court required a finding that the harm to the child had to be a willful disregard for the safety and well-being of the child. The statute however merely requires that the court consider willful disregard as one of several listed relevant factors. The Fourth DCA cited also to J.S. v. S.A., 912 So. 2d 650, 662 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005), where the court held that the “passage of time can be harmful to the well-being of a child” and a child deserves a stable home environment.
Moreover, the Fourth DCA distinguished Beagle, where the court declared a portion of the statute unconstitutional because it failed to require a showing of harm to a child. The underlying question in Beagle was limited to the narrow issue of grandparent visitation rights over the objection of a parent.