Parental Abandonment Considered by Florida Court of Appeal in Grandparent Adoption Case

Because of the very sensitive nature of parental abandonment cases, any court making such a determination is required to make special considerations under the laws of Florida. In fact, the Florida legislature has set forth a specific definition for parental abandonment, describing it as a situation in which a parent has made little or no provision for the support of the child, or little or no effort to communicate with the child. Such behavior is sufficient in demonstrating an intent to reject parental responsibilities. Upon a finding of abandonment, a court may terminate a parent’s rights.

In V.C.B v. Shakir, the Fourth District Court of Appeal held that a father’s parental rights could be terminated due to clear and convincing evidence that he had abandoned his child. In Shakir, a child’s maternal grandparents were seeking to terminate the father’s parental rights in order to adopt the child. The 12-year-old child’s mother had recently died, and the grandparents alleged that the child’s father had abandoned the child.

The trial court found that the father had in fact abandoned the child, both financially and emotionally. However, the trial court could not find that the father had exhibited a willful disregard for the child’s safety, which it determined to be a requirement for terminating parental rights. The grandparents appealed the trial court’s judgment.

The appellate court recognized prior holdings that required a finding of harm to a child before allowing grandparent visitation rights. In that case, the court focused on the issue of the fundamental liberty interests possessed by parents. Without a showing of harm to the child, the court found that there was no justification to impose grandparent visitation rights upon the family.

The Shakir court noted the difference between the infringement upon the fundamental right to act as a parent, which does require a finding of harm, and the issues of abandonment presented in the current case. The court interpreted the Florida definition of abandonment and held that it does not require a finding of harm to the child. Evidence of harm can be considered as a factor, among others, as to whether a parent’s acts constitute abandonment. Therefore, the appellate court found that the trial court construed the law more narrowly than required.

The court further found that the passage of time after parental abandonment can result in harm to a child’s well-being. Moreover, a court should take into account the capability of grandparents to provide a stable home environment. Since there had been a finding that the father had abandoned the child, resulting in the forfeiture of parental rights, the Court of Appeals reversed the case and ordered the trial court to enter an order terminating the father’s parental rights. On remand, the grandparents could proceed with the adoption of the child.

The Southwest Florida child custody lawyers at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano are skilled in resolving a wide variety of family law issues. If you or someone you know has encountered problems concerning the termination of parental rights, child abandonment, or adoption, contact our attorneys right away. Our family law attorneys strive to protect your legal rights. Contact us online or call toll-free at (800) 238-7442 for a free confidential consultation.

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