Florida Legislature establishes right to counsel for certain dependent children

Key_development Question_mark

04/30/2014, Legislation, Abuse/Neglect/Dependency - Children

Certain children, including those with developmental disabilities, entitled to counsel

In 2014 the Florida Legislature passed HB 561, which created Fla. Stat. §  39.01305(3) and requires appointment of counsel for certain children in dependency and termination of parental rights cases, such as children with developmental disabilities, those residing in a skilled nursing facility, and children who are victims of human trafficking. New media outlet NationSwell recently discussed the law.


Discretionary appointment of attorney ad litem for all other children

The new law enacted in 2020 expands the existing law governing appointment of counsel for children in Florida. Fla. R. Juv. P. 8.217(a), which covers both dependency and termination of parental rights, provides, "At any stage of the proceedings, any party may request or the court may consider whether an attorney ad litem is necessary to represent any child alleged to be dependent, if one has not already been appointed", while 8.217(b) adds, "The court may appoint an attorney ad litem to represent the child in any proceeding as allowed by law."


Also worthy of note is a statutory provision detailing the legislature's goals for dependent children: 

The Legislature finds that the design and delivery of child welfare services should be directed by the principle that the health and safety of children, including the freedom from abuse, abandonment, or neglect, is of paramount concern and, therefore, establishes the following goals for children in shelter or foster care: ... To have a guardian ad litem appointed to represent, within reason, their best interests and, if appropriate, an attorney ad litem appointed to represent their legal interests; the guardian ad litem and attorney ad litem shall have immediate and unlimited access to the children they represent.

Fla. Stat. § 39.4085(1)(t).

Right to attorney for children who are the subject of permanent custody proceedings whose caregiver objects to change in custody

Finally, pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 39.522(3)(b)(4),

Within 7 days after receiving written notice from the caregiver [of the caregiver's objection to the department's official position on the change of physical custody], the court must conduct an initial case status hearing, at which time the court must:


b. Appoint an attorney for the child who is the subject of the permanent custody proceeding, in addition to the guardian ad litem, if one is appointed...

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes



NCCRC provided some input on the language of HB 561.