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Name: In re S.R.
Case #: C060404
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 05/01/2009

The trial court abused discretion in modifying a court order for a bonding study where the only changed circumstance was that the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) could not find an appropriate expert. Both parents in the dependency proceedings were Spanish speaking and required interpreters. After the parents failed to reunify, the court ordered a bonding assessment. DHHS stated that a bonding assessment would provide useful information and did not object. Two months later, the department filed a petition for modification of the order because it had been unable to find a qualified Spanish-speaking professional in the area who could perform the bonding assessment. The parents argued against granting the petition because there had been no showing that there were changed circumstances or that the modification was in the best interest of the minors. The court granted the modification, and parental rights were subsequently terminated. On appeal, the parents argued that the court abused its discretion in granting the modification petition. The appellate court agreed and reversed. Though finding the right expert might have been a difficult task, the scant effort given to the task provided no basis to modify the original order. The hollow evidence tendered by DHSS did not support a finding of changed circumstances, only a finding that a continuance was required until a satisfactory expert was found. There was no basis for the court to conclude that the minors’ best interests were served by vacating the court’s order.