T.B. v. Department of Children and Families, 2015 WL 6496316 (Fla. 4th DCA)

Father appealed an order which placed his children in a permanent guardianship with a relative; terminated supervision by the Department of Children and Families; and modified Father’s visitation with the children to comport with the relative’s planned move out of state. The Fourth District Court of Appeals (Fourth DCA) reversed the order finding that it failed to include the required findings of fact and that a hearing was required to permit the guardian to relocate out of state.

The children were adjudicated dependent as to Father due to abandonment and the Father’s failure to prevent neglect by Mother. Father was granted visitation and completed a case plan successfully. Father was denied reunification because Father’s adult son, who was on pre-trial release for alleged sexual abuse of minors, was residing in Father’s home.

In a later review hearing, the trial court entered a final order placing the children in a permanent guardianship and modifying father’s visitation. The trial court found that the Florida Statute § 39.61, which governs relocation, does not apply in permanent guardianships.

Pursuant to Florida Statute § 39.6221(2), a written order establishing a permanent guardianship must include the reasons why the parents are “not fit to care for the child and why reunification is not possible by referring to specific findings of fact . . . or by making specific findings of fact.” The trial court’s order failed to include specific findings of fact, stating only that the parents are not fit because “the circumstances from which the court previously based its finding that the children are dependent have not been ameliorated.” The Fourth DCA found this general conclusion did not meet the specificity required by statute or case law. The trial court record was unclear as to whether an evidentiary hearing was held on the permanent guardianship and directed the trial court to conduct a hearing as one had not occurred.

As to the matter of relocation, the Fourth DCA found that Florida Statute § 39.61 does apply in guardianship cases. As such, a hearing was required to determine whether relocation was in the best interests of the children.

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