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L.Q. v. Department of Children and Families

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

October 10, 2019

L.Q., the Father, Appellant,
v.
Department of Children and Families, et al., Appellees.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County Lower Tribunal No. 13-16176, Jason E. Dimitris, Judge.

          Steven Grossbard, for appellant.

          Karla Perkins, for appellee Department of Children and Families; Thomasina F. Moore and Joanna Summers Brunell (Tallahassee), for appellee Guardian ad Litem.

          Before FERNANDEZ, HENDON, and LOBREE, JJ.

          HENDON, J.

         L.Q., the father ("L.Q." or "the Father"), appeals from a final judgment terminating his parental rights to N.L., S.L., and A.L. (collectively, "the Children") based on the statutory ground set forth in section 39.806(1)(b), Florida Statutes (2018)-abandonment as defined in section 39.01(1), Florida Statutes (2018).[1]Because the final judgment terminating the Father's parental rights is supported by competent, substantial evidence, we affirm.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The day after N.L. was born in December 2013, he was sheltered by the Department of Children and Families ("the Department") and placed into foster care. The shelter petition reflects that the father was unknown, but several documents filed thereafter reflect that L.Q. was N.L.'s prospective father. When N.L. was sheltered, the Mother was seventeen years old and in foster care. Approximately two months later, the Mother and N.L. were reunited and lived in a group home until the Mother aged out of the foster care system in October 2014. In September 2014, the trial court entered an order prohibiting the Mother from having any type of contact with L.Q. In January 2015, following the Mother's completion of her case plan tasks, the trial court dismissed the case against the Mother. The Mother and L.Q. began to live together, and they had two other children together, S.L, who was born in May 2015, and A.L., who was born in September 2016.

         In January 2017, the Father and the Mother were involved in domestic violence incident in the Children's presence.[2] As a result, the Father was arrested, and after being released, the Father moved to Ohio.

         On February 9, 2017, the Department removed N.L. from the Mother, and the following day, the Department filed a dependency shelter petition based on the medical neglect of N.L.'s eczema, which has been an ongoing problem. At that point, N.L.'s eczema was all over his body, and he had bloody wounds that were not covered, and N.L. was seen scratching his wounds and shaking. Following a hearing, the trial court entered a dependency shelter order as to N.L., and an order requiring L.Q. to submit to paternity testing. Later that month, on February 18, 2017, S.L. and A.L. were also sheltered and placed into foster care after the Mother was evicted and could not provide S.L. and A.L. with a safe place to reside. Thereafter, the trial court entered a dependency shelter order as to S.L. and A.L. As of February 2017, the Father knew that the Children were in foster care.

         In March 2017, a dependency petition was filed as to the Children, and thereafter, during a level of care assessment, the Father acknowledged he was the father of the Children. The Father was aware that he could not have any contact with the Children until he presented himself before the trial court and his paternity was established. Later that month, the Children were adjudicated dependent, and case plans were entered.

         Following the Mother's completion of case plan tasks, the Children were returned to the Mother on July 19, 2017, over the Department's objection. It is undisputed that while the Children were in foster care from February 2017 to July 2017, the Father did not attempt to contact the Children, failed to provide financial support for the Children, and failed to present himself before the trial court.

         Despite knowing about the ongoing proceedings, the Father first appeared before the trial court on September 6, 2017-approximately nine months after the Department removed the Children from the Mother's care.[3] At that time, the Father acknowledged his paternity of the Children, waiving DNA testing, and paternity orders were later entered nunc pro tunc to September 6, 2017. The trial court appointed counsel to the Father, granted the Father supervised visitations twice a week, and ordered the Father to submit a financial affidavit for the purpose of calculating his child ...


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