T.N.L. v. Department of Children and Families, 2014 WL 223001 (Fla. 4th DCA)

The mother appealed the trial court’s order denying her motion for reunification and placing her child with the father. The mother argued the trial court erred in denying reunification because she was in substantial compliance with her case plan and the trial court did not make any findings that the child’s safety and well-being would be endangered if she were reunified with the mother. § 39.522(2), Fla. Stat.(2012). The legal standard for reunification involving a child placed with a non-offending parent was changed in 2013 – after the trial court’s order denying reunification. The 2012 statute standard “required the trial court to grant a motion for reunification absent a finding of endangerment to the child in cases where the parent substantially complied with the case plan.”  The 2013 statute standard “allows a court to deny a reunification motion based solely on the best interest of the child, even where there is no evidence that reunification would endanger the child.”

The Fourth District Court of Appeal (Fourth DCA) reversed and remanded the case for a new hearing to apply the 2013 statute. The Fourth DCA held “the amended statute, which changes the legal standard for courts to apply in ruling on reunification motions involving a child placed with the non-offending parent, is a remedial statute and does not affect substantive rights. Thus, there is no bar on its retrospective application.” A new hearing was required because the mother “may have elected to present additional evidence relevant to the best interest of the child had she known that the standard had changed.”

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