Chief Judge Morris Silberman - Florida 2nd DCA

Section 39.01(51), Florida Statutes (2010), defines “party” to include “the petitioner.” Because the grandparents are petitioners in the trial court, they are not “essentially” parties, they are parties. Thus, we determine that they have standing to challenge the order. In addition, the effect of the order is to prohibit the grandfather from living with his wife, which affects his legal rights.

Reading subsection (2) on legislative intent as a whole with the remainder of section 39.0139 supports the conclusion that the Act is intended to apply to children who have been sexually abused or exploited. Based on the legislature’s express statement of intent to protect and reduce the risk of further harm to children who have been sexually abused or exploited, it appears that the Act does not apply to S.C. Thus, the trial court applied the incorrect law, thereby departing from the essential requirements of the law in ordering that the grandfather have no contact with his grandson based on the Act.

In re S.C., — So.3d —-, 2012 WL 246466 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2012) (January 27, 2012).

Grandparents and foster parents have been trying to get standing in dependency cases for a long time. They’ve been limited, however, by the definition of “a party” in Chapter 39, which explicitly does not include them. This is the stepping stone case that they’ve been waiting for: to get standing, they have to be petitioners.  The next step will be to join the Department’s petition as a private petitioner and see what happens. It will be interesting to see if future courts read the “affects his legal rights” language to be an implicit requirement of “some additional standing” that the court seems to have dismissed two sentences earlier.

The KCSA ruling is not surprising. Despite the Act’s good intentions, it tends to wreak havoc on justice, and for a while it was considered patently unconstitutional by everyone who read it.