(a) Presence of Counsel. The department must be represented by an attorney at every stage of these proceedings.
(b) Presence of Child.
(1) The child has a right to be present at all hearings.
(2) If the child is present at the hearing, the court may excuse the child from any portion of the hearing when the court determines that it would not be in the child’s best interest to remain.
(3) If a child is not present at a hearing, the court shall inquire and determine the reason for the absence of the child. The court shall determine whether it is in the best interest of the child to conduct the hearing without the presence of the child or to continue the hearing to provide the child an opportunity to be present at the hearing.
(4) Any party may file a motion to require or excuse the presence of the child.
(c) Separate Examinations. The child and the parents, caregivers, or legal custodians of the child may be examined separately and apart from each other.
(d) Examination of Child; Special Protections.
(1) Testimony by Child. A child may be called to testify in open court by any party to the proceeding or the court, and may be examined or cross-examined.
(2) In-Camera Examination.
(A) On motion and hearing, the child may be examined by the court outside the presence of other parties as provided by law. The court shall assure that proceedings are recorded, unless otherwise stipulated by the parties.
(B) The motion may be filed by any party or the trial court on its own motion.
(C) The court shall make specific written findings of fact, on the record, as to the basis for its ruling. These findings may include but are not limited to:
(i) the age of the child;
(ii) the nature of the allegation;
(iii) the relationship between the child and the alleged abuser;
(iv) the likelihood that the child would suffer emotional or mental harm if required to testify in open court;
(v) whether the child’s testimony is more likely to be truthful if given outside the presence of other parties;
(vi) whether cross-examination would adversely affect the child; and
(vii) the manifest best interest of the child.
(D) The child may be called to testify by means of closed-circuit television or by videotaping as provided by law.
(e) Conducting Hearings. Except as otherwise provided in these rules, proceedings must be conducted as follows.
(1) Evidentiary proceedings must be conducted in person unless the parties agree that a proceeding should be conducted remotely or conducted in a hybrid format, or the court orders it upon good cause shown.
(2) All other proceedings may be conducted remotely or in a hybrid format upon agreement of the parties or by court order unless good cause is otherwise shown.
(3) The court may consider the following factors in determining whether good cause exists: the consent of the parties, the time-sensitivity of the matter, the nature of the relief sought, the resources of the parties and the court, the anticipated duration of the testimony, the need and ability to review and identify documents during testimony, the probative value of the testimony, the geographic location of the witnesses, the cost and inconvenience in requiring the physical presence of the witnesses, the need for confrontation of the witnesses, the need to observe the demeanor of the witnesses, the potential for unfair surprise, and any other matter relevant to the request.
(4) A party who participates in a hearing conducted remotely or conducted in a hybrid format must be given the opportunity to privately and confidentially communicate with counsel during the proceedings.
(f) Taking Testimony.
(1) Testimony at a Hearing or Trial. When testifying at a hearing or trial, a witness must be physically present unless otherwise provided by law or these rules. This rule shall not apply to statutory requirements for parents to personally appear at arraignment hearings, advisory hearings, and adjudicatory hearings.
(2) Communication Technology. The court may permit a witness to testify at a hearing or trial by communication technology:
(A) when the proceeding is conducted remotely or conducted in a hybrid fashion as permitted by this rule;
(B) by agreement of the parties; or
(C) for good cause shown upon written or oral request of a party. The request must contain an estimate of the length of the proposed testimony. In considering sufficient good cause, the court may weigh and address in its order or its ruling on the record the reasons stated for testimony by communication technology against the potential for prejudice to the objecting party.
(3) Oath. Testimony may be taken through audio communication technology only if a notary public or other person authorized to administer oaths in the witness’s jurisdiction is physically present with the witness and administers the oath consistent with the laws of the jurisdiction. If testimony is provided at the hearing via audio-video communication technology, the witness may also be sworn remotely using such audio-video communication technology by a person who is qualified and administers the oath consistent with the laws of the witness’s jurisdiction or Florida. The oath procedures of this subdivision are not required for hearings where, by law, the court may consider any evidence to the extent of its probative value even though not competent in an adjudicatory hearing and where the parties and the court agree to waive these oath procedures.
(g) Invoking the Rule. Before the examination of any witness the court may, and on the request of any party must, exclude all other witnesses. The court may cause witnesses to be kept separate and to be prevented from communicating with each other until all are examined.
(h) Continuances. As permitted by law, the court may grant a continuance before or during a hearing for good cause shown by any party.
(i) Record. A record of the testimony in all hearings must be made by an official court reporter, a court-approved stenographer, or a recording device. The records of testimony must be preserved as required by law. Official records of testimony must be transcribed only on order of the court.
(j) Notice. When these rules do not require a specific notice, all parties will be given reasonable notice of any hearing.
(k) Written Notice. The court must provide written notice of the right to participate in a private adoption plan, pursuant to chapter 63, Florida Statutes, when required by law.