Department of Children and Families v. B.C., 2016 WL 635072 (Fla. 1st DCA)

The Department of Children and Families and the Guardian ad Litem Program appealed denial of a petition for termination of parental rights. The First District Court of Appeal (First DCA) reversed denial and remanded for further proceedings.

Although the trial court found the termination of parental rights was statutorily warranted and in the manifest best interests of the children, the trial court denied termination finding that termination was not the least restrictive means to protect the children from harm. Specifically, the trial court found the children were safe from harm in telephonic contact and supervised visitation with Mother. Despite clear and convincing evidence that the parental bond was beyond reunification and should be terminated, the trial court relied on three recent cases ( G.H. v. Department of Children and Families, 145 So.3d 884 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014); A.H. v. Department of Children and Families, 144 So.3d 662 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014); C.D. v. Department of Children and Families, 164 So. 3d 40 (Fla 1st DCA 2015)) that suggested minimal and controlled supervised visitation automatically stops termination.

The First DCA distinguished all three cases from the facts at hand and noted “the uniformity of judicial precedent rejecting the notion that termination is impossible under the least restrictive means test simply because some limited and highly restricted contact with a parent may pose no harm.” The “least restrictive means test does not stand as an impenetrable barrier to achieving what is ultimately in the child’s best interest” when clear and convicting evidence establishes both grounds for termination and that termination is in the best interest of the child.