Once you give a parent a case plan with a goal of reunification, you have to see it through unless you have a hearing to change it. It’s hard to believe it’s that simple. But it is.
We recognize that section 39.521(3)(b)(1), Florida Statutes (2011), gives a court the option to place a dependent child with a nonoffending parent and to terminate jurisdiction over the child. This is clearly permissible when an offending parent has not complied with a case plan. See T.W. v. Dep’t of Children & Family Servs., 946 So.2d 1214 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006). But when the parent is diligently working on a reunification case plan, proceeding in that fashion effectively produces a de facto amendment of the reunification goal. See K.E. v. Dep’t of Children & Families, 958 So.2d 968, 971–72 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007) (citing R.H. v. Dep’t of Children & Families, 948 So.2d 898, 899–900 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007)). Again, due process requires that a court determine the propriety of amending a case plan only after an evidentiary hearing. See Fla. R. Juv. P. 8.420(a)(3) (providing that the court may amend the goal of a case plan “if there is a preponderance of evidence demonstrating the need for the amendment”).
The alternative option, in section 39.521(3)(b)(2), allows the court to order that reunification services be provided to the noncustodial parent and to change custody if need be, based on the best interest of the child. In this case, the court received no evidence suggesting that giving A.S. a reasonable opportunity to complete her case plan tasks would be detrimental to the child, and there was no evidentiary basis for altering the plan’s reunification goal. Under these circumstances, the court should have proceeded under subsection (3)(b)(2).