In re: C.C. v. L.J., an appeal from the Alabama Supreme Court, deals with the very complex process a court can use to terminate the parental rights of a biological parent. In this case, mother filed a petition with juvenile court to establish paternity of the child involved in the case. In the same petition, mother attempted to terminate the parental rights of father.
Mother stated in her petition that father had already filed a petition with the circuit court and that court ordered a DNA test. The DNA test established that father was the biological father of the child, but father withdrew the petition prior to the court making an official finding of paternity. Mother further alleged that father had abandoned the child.
Father filed an answer to this petition in which he denied all allegations, except he admitted that he was the biological father of the child. He then filed an amended answer and counterclaims, in which he sought the joint legal custody of his child. He requested that physical custody be awarded to mother with visitation rights and asked for a reasonable child support order.
A hearing was held, during which testimony from mother, father, and the child's maternal grandmother was taken, and the court found that father had abandoned his child pursuant to Section 12-15-301 of the Alabama Code. The trial court terminated the parental rights of father. Father appealed this order.
Our Birmingham child custody attorneys understand the complexity of termination of parental rights matters and the factors the court will consider in taking such action that will have major impact on a child's life.
On appeal, the Civil Court of Appeals for the State of Alabama found that the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction to terminate parental rights in a case that did not involve the child being found dependent or delinquent and in need of supervision. The court was not in unanimous agreement, and two judges dissented from the majority opinion. Mother appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court of Alabama.
The court looked at whether the Child Protection Act would provide the juvenile court with authority to terminate parental rights in this scenario, or whether the Alabama Juvenile Justice Action (AJJA) would provide such authority.
When looking at the legislative history and intent of the newly enacted AJJA amendments made in 2014, it was determined that it was intended that the juvenile court should have exclusive original jurisdiction over all termination of parental rights hearings. One these grounds, the Supreme Court reversed the opinion by the Civil Court of Appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with their opinion.
Essentially, the basis for father's original appeal was not to challenge the merits of the findings made by the juvenile court, but rather the forum used by mother to plead for a termination of parental rights. An appeal based on jurisdiction is often used, because either party can generally not waive the issue. It also does not require the higher court to make an independent evaluation of the facts of the case, which appellate courts generally will not do.
In re: C.C. v. L.J., September 30, 2014, Alabama Supreme Court