“Eat Mor Chikin” for First Choice Women’s Medical Center

cfa-fb-main-3Do you have dinner plans yet? Do you love Chick-fil-A (who doesn’t?) and want to support an excellent cause?

Today between 5 PM and 9 PM, the Chick-fil-A at Eastchase will be donating 20 percent of its profits to First Choice Women’s Medical Center.

Please make sure to order inside so that you can sign a sheet to specify that you would like to participate in the First Choice Women’s Medical Center benefit.

Companies That Make Amazing Products – And Support Adoption and Foster Children! Part 1

MonogramOptionsWeb_largeSwell Forever, a company that specializes in “classic heirlooms with a personalized twist,” not only creates beautiful monogrammed heirloom gifts – but also supports adoption and foster care. In fact, the company “was created with the goal of raising awareness and providing funds to help improve the chances of waiting children who need to find a Forever Family.”

Swell Forever also recently added a book on adoption to their store called, “The Blooming.” Be sure to take a look at this incredible book, which sweetly illustrates the love in the adoption process.

Swell Forever’s grant program is open to potential adoptive parents, and focuses on assisting those adopting out of foster care and special-needs adoptions.

It is inspiring to see people using their creative gifts and vision to help adoption and foster children! Please support these companies, and help spread their message of love and hope for these amazing kids.

Story from CBN: Couple Cares For Many Children in Need

This past Friday, The 700 Club featured a story on a couple who suddenly felt called to adopt. Since then, they have fostered 34 children – and adopted 17 of those children! The couple is especially focused on supporting and sharing the love of Christ with children who have a history of trauma and neglect. Many of their children also have special needs. The foster/adoptive mother says that, although there are difficulties, “with Christ in the center, no one can divide us.”

Alabama Orphan-Care Case Law Update: February 13, 2015

BasicsAn orphan is a vulnerable child left without adequate familial provision and protection from evil.  There is real evil in the world – evil that will always seek to abuse, neglect, and rob vulnerable children.  Orphan-Care Law is that body of law that relates to addressing and alleviating the affliction of these vulnerable children.

This week, Alabama’s appellate courts released three new opinions that affect orphans and their families. 

In the first case, Rasha Alsaikhan v. Ahmed Alakel, 2130870, (Ala. Civ. App. 2015), Alakel (“the husband”) filed for divorce from his wife, Alsaikhan. The husband did not mention seeking custody of their children in his complaint.

The wife, however, did seek custody of their children—and as a result the husband filed an amended complaint to seek custody of the children.

The big complicating factor in the case was the issue of subject-matter jurisdiction, which is whether or not the court has the authority to hear a given case. This issue was introduced into the case by the wife’s subsequent counterclaim, in which she filed a motion to dismiss due to the lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

This claim was introduced because of the wife’s statement that they were both citizens of Saudi Arabia, in the U.S. on student visas with no intention of domicile (domicile is the legal term for a permanent home) in the U.S.  Therefore, she argued that her husband’s divorce action did not have subject-matter jurisdiction in that particular trial court.

The issue of subject-matter jurisdiction is where this case got messy, and ultimately, where it ended. Although the trial court purported to divorce the parties (including jointly sharing child custody, property, etc.), the wife filed a postjudgement motion to bring up the subject-matter jurisdiction issue again. The couples’ joint intention to return to Saudi Arabia emerged as a particularly relevant issue, given that: “ ‘ [A] domicile, once acquired, is presumed to exist until a new one has been gained “facto et animo” . . . And in order to displace the former, original domicile by the acquisition of one of choice, actual residence and intent to remain at the new one must concur. “Domicile of choice is entirely a question of residence and intention, or, as it is frequently put, of factum and animus.” . . . (Jacobs v. Ryals, 401 So. 2d at 778 (quoting Ex parte Weissinger, 247 Ala. 113, 117, 22 So. 2d 510, 513-14 (1945)).

There were some issues of “she said” vs. “he said,” but in the end the Court of Civil Appeals did not find enough evidence to support that the wife was an Alabama resident, and therefore, in order to have jurisdiction the Court needed evidence of the husband’s residence or domicile in Alabama.  The Court found no such evidence, and therefore the case could not move forward. This case demonstrates the importance of knowing, prior to filing, that one unquestionably has subject-matter jurisdiction. Otherwise, it will be a lot of effort and money lost for naught!

In J.B. and K.B. v. J.M., 2130648 (Ala. Civ. App. 2015), J.B. and K.B. were the legal custodians of a child. The record did not reveal exactly how they obtained custody, but at some point the child’s maternal grandmother intervened to get custody in the juvenile court, where she was able to get visitation. The custodians then filed a petition for adoption in the probate court, which was granted to them.

As an aside, it is important to know that in the past there have been jurisdictional “turf wars” between the juvenile court and the probate court.  Adoption has historically occurred in the probate court, which until 1849 was known as the “orphan’s court” in Alabama – since it was the court that provided legal protection for vulnerable children who did not have parents to care for them.

After the adoption was granted, the grandmother moved the probate court to have the adoption set aside. The probate court transferred that motion over to the juvenile court, which determined that the adoption should be set aside because there was not proper notice; the grandmother was not given proper notice as required by Ala. Code 1975, §26-10A-17(a)(6).

The mistake that the custodians of the child made after that was that they did not appeal the juvenile court’s judgement that the adoption be set aside—so when they brought the case up for review, the appellate court could not  consider their challenge.

The juvenile court subsequently granted the maternal grandmother visitation. The main take-away from this case is that attorneys need to make sure to know what needs to be appealed, and to appeal correctly. Mistakes such as this one could have serious consequences.

The last case we are looking at today is D.D.P. v. D.M.B. et al., 2130686 (Ala. Civ. App. 2015). This case deals with a father who was at war in Iraq, a mother and step-father who were allegedly abusing a child, and the biological father’s parents attempting to get custody of said child.

In April 2010, the juvenile court found the child dependent. Three years later, the court finally ended up at the dispositional hearing. The mother’s attorney came forth with the argument that there was not a current finding of dependency—the dependency was found three years ago. Initially, the court did not accept this argument and said that they were going to award custody to the biological father.

However, upon review by the Court of Civil Appeals, the three-year-old declaration of dependency did not hold up, especially given DHR’s findings that the allegations against the biological mother were “not indicated”on September 2011: “In ruling at the outset of the January 2013 hearing that the juvenile court would adhere to its nearly three-year-old oral declaration regarding the child’s dependency –– a declaration that was rendered suspect by the intervening “not indicated” finding by DHR as evidenced by the mother’s September 2011 motions –– the juvenile court deprived the mother of an opportunity to impeach the correctness of that earlier oral determination of dependency, cf. Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P. (under which “any order or other form of decision … which adjudicates … the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties … is subject to revision at any time before the entry of” a final judgment), as well as denying her the opportunity to demonstrate that, in any event, the child was no longer dependent under Alabama law.”

Once again, we are faced with the importance of meticulous attention to detail in resolving child custody matters.

Photo by libertygrace0.

A Joyful Adoption Story

Carlislefamily_grandeWe love these stories! The Carlisle Family recently shared about their adoption on Swell Forever, a company that is dedicated to spreading awareness of children in need of forever families and to providing funds for adoption.

“I am often asked why we wanted to adopt children with special needs. I like to think of it like this…. When one door closes that’s the obvious sign to move on. When one is wide open its like God is hitting you in the head telling you to go for it!

But my favorite doors are those that are cracked open. The ones that many may pass up.

But if you just stop and take a peek, there might be something so great waiting inside. The one that if you didn’t take the time to stop and pray about, you might miss because you are so busy looking for the obvious door that’s wide open. When you stop and pray you discover what beauty could be partially hidden behind it.”

Read the rest of their story here!

Alabama Orphan-Care Case Law Update: February 6, 2015

An orphan is a vulnerable child left without adequate familial provision and protection from evil. There is real evil in the world – evil that will always seek to abuse, neglect, and rob vulnerable children. Orphan-Care Law is that body of law that relates to addressing and alleviating the affliction of these vulnerable children.

This week there were no substantive decisions for orphan-care law released by the Court of Civil Appeals or the Supreme Court.[1]  So, we will take this opportunity to look towards some of the potential legislative changes on the horizon.  The next legislative session begins on March 5, 2015, so we have a few weeks before things get started.

First, Senator Allen (from District 21 – Tuscaloosa, Pickens, and Lamar County) is proposing a new version of the Grandparent Visitation Statute that has been under almost constant constitutional attack over the last few years.  The Grandparent Visitation Statute, § 30-3-4.1, gives grandparents the right to petition the court for mandatory visitation with their grandchildren.  Hopefully, this sounds a little fishy at first blush; hopefully, the first-time reader is asking him/herself: “Isn’t it the prerogative of the parent to determine if the child should be visiting with the grandparent?”

The reasoning behind this question is probably why the statute keeps getting struck down as unconstitutional; it has been re-written multiple times.  The current version has not been struck down as unconstitutional—but the court has come pretty close to doing so.  The most recent case discussing the current statute, Tripp v. Owen, 031414, 2120063 (Ala. Civ. App. March 14, 2014), specifically declined to hold the statute unconstitutional; however, the issue wasn’t squarely before the court to consider.

Nonetheless, perhaps out of an abundance of caution, Senator Allen is proposing a rework of the statute in SB3 .  SB3 proposes three significant changes to the current statute.  First, SB3 proposes a complete reorganization of the current version.  I’m not one to promote change for the sake of change, but I think SB3’s organization actually clears things up.  SB3 makes it clear that the court must find two things to award visitation:  (1) a significant and viable relationship, and (2) that visitation would be in the child’s best interest. Let’s hope this clarification helps the statute stand up to constitutional scrutiny.

Second, SB3 gives a fairly brilliant definition of “harm”:  SB3 defines harm as “[a] finding by the court . . . that without court-ordered visitation by the grandparent, the child’s emotional, mental, or physical well-being has been, could reasonably be, or would be jeopardized.”  The statute then weaves the word “harm” into the criteria for the court in making its determination of relationship and best interest.  This change may face future constitutional attack.

Third, SB3 provides greater specificity on what evidence a court will need to find in order to award a grandparent visitation.  The proposed legislation states that “[t]his bill would specify the factors that establish a significant and viable relationship for the purposes of establishing clear and convincing evidence.”  This is probably the meat of the change that this bill proposes.  The current statute does not provide specific factors that the court should consider (like the statute governing termination of parental rights, § 12-15-319).  Those factors are found in section (d) of the proposed bill.

The only section of this statute that gives me significant pause is section (n).  Section (n) gives the court the authority to waive or limit notice requirements “to the extent necessary to protect the confidentiality and the health, safety, or liberty of a person or a child.”  Notice is part of the constitutionally protected right to due process, and therefore I’m just not sure how this one is going to play out.  Perhaps someone has seen a statute like this hold up before—I invite anyone to write back with some clarity on this issue.

A closing question on this topic:  if we respect the fundamental right of parents to control the destiny of their children, why are people trying so hard to give grandparents the ability to intervene in this relationship contrary to the parent’s wishes? I think the answer comes back to the problem we addressed in the last Orphan-Care Law Update:  every day in Alabama there are approximately 67 children born to unmarried mothers, with 15 of those children being born to teenage mothers.[2]  This isn’t a problem per se, however, children in said demographic are statistically at a greater risk of abuse, neglect, and dereliction.  Statistically, parents of such children are going to make less prudent decisions—even to such a degree that it may harm their children.  It makes sense to allow grandparents of these children to intervene in the child’s life under very limited circumstances.

Also on the table for legislative changes this year is the Permanency for At-Risk Kids Act (“PARK Act”).  The PARK Act, developed by The Adoption Law Firm and its partners, is focused on providing permanency for children in a timely manner.  Sadly, children who have been abused and neglected often languish for years in foster care, when the child protection system could be allowing them to be adopted into loving families.  Two years may not seem like an incredibly long time for a child to remain in foster care without permanency, but think about it from the perspective of a five-year-old: for a five-year-old, two years is almost half of their life.

The PARK Act seeks to remove barriers to permanence by lifting the child protection system out of its arenicolous daze.  The PARK Act would seek to implement this objective through the following changes: (1) foster parents would have automatic standing in juvenile court if they have fostered the child for 12 consecutive months, (2) judicial loopholes in the time limits of the Best Interest of the Child Act would be closed, (3) a clearer definition for “significant parental relationship” would be provided in the adoption code, (4) a time limit for biological caregivers to come forward in foster-care situations would be imposed, (5) bonding to non-biological caregivers would be recognized as additional grounds for TPR, and (6) TPR would be removed from the permanent record of minor parents.

Other legislative items on The Adoption Law Firm’s “dream list” include:  (1) Cooperative Adoption Agreements, (2) a requirement that all future probate judges be licensed attorneys, (3) a requirement that all DHR social workers maintain a license to practice social work, (4) legislation designed to implement CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), and (5) legislation designed to implement Safe Families or other private foster-care mechanisms.

If you have other ideas for legislative changes or you would like to help getting some of these bills implemented, please contact The Adoption Law Firm.

[1] Chief Justice Roy Moore released another dissent in a termination-of-parental rights case, Ex parte M.D. and S.W., 1140187 (Ala. February 6, 2015).  However, he was alone in his dissent and there doesn’t appear to be any substantive development.
[2] Alabama Office of Vital Statistics, available at:  https://acis.alabama.gov/1000/1050viewdoc.cfm?TI=249498&No=644949&Code=1182663&Type_Cd=1000

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Alabama Orphan-Care Case Law Update: January 30, 2015

An orphan is a vulnerable child left without adequate familial provision and protection from evil.  There is real evil in the world – evil that will always seek to abuse, neglect, and rob vulnerable children.  Orphan-Care Law is that body of law that relates to addressing and alleviating the affliction of these vulnerable children.

This week, Alabama’s appellate courts released one new opinion that affects orphans and their families.

There were 58,162 children born in Alabama in 2013.  Of that number, 42 percent of those children were born to unmarried mothers.  If you do the math, that’s 24,566 children born without a legal father. [1]  Certainly, some of these DNA-fathers have stepped up, cared for these children, and even married the mothers; however, it is also certain that many of these fathers have not.

The recent opinion of Ex parte B.C., Pet for Cert, 1130250 (Ala. January 30, 2015), written by Justice Bolin, deals with an example of what can occur when unmarried parents have relational challenges while caring for children.  The child in B.C., like thousands of children in Alabama, had a father who had “abandoned the child . . .  failed to maintain contact with the child . . . and failed to provide financial support for the child.”  In short, he was a deadbeat and the child’s mother wanted his rights terminated, so she initiated a termination-of-parental-rights proceeding in the juvenile court.

At this point, we should ask ourselves, “Why would the mother want to do that?”  Well, the case doesn’t tell us, but if you ask mothers in similar situations, they may respond something like this: “Joe Blow and I were not in a long-term relationship. I told him about the pregnancy and he didn’t want anything to do with the child.  He has never provided one cent of support or ever laid eyes on his child.  I’m afraid he will come around years from now and try to play ‘Mr. Super Dad’—I can’t risk that for my child.”

I think it’s safe to assume that the mother in B.C. was thinking something along these lines.  Whatever the specifics of her story were, the trial court accepted it and terminated the father’s parental rights.  The father’s attorney filed an appeal and asserted that the juvenile court does not have jurisdiction to terminate the parental rights of a child when the petition is brought by one of the child’s parents; i.e., when the child cannot found to be “dependent.”[2]

The exact issue that the Supreme Court decided was “whether a juvenile court may exercise jurisdiction under § 12-15-144 over a termination-of-parental-rights petition when the ground for seeking the termination does not include [dependency].”  The answer to the question is, “Yes.”  The answer turns on a recent case by the Supreme Court (Ex parte L.J. [Ms. 1121462] (Ala. September 30, 2014) and a lot of complicated statutory analysis.

The bottom line is that, for the mothers of the 25,000 children born in Alabama every year without legal fathers, you can provide a little more stability for your children and a little more peace of mind for yourself by terminating the parental rights of absent biological fathers in the juvenile court.

In other case-law news, the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Chief Justice Roy Moore, released two new writings that add to his lengthy repertoire of dissents which seek to strengthen the legal communities’ respect for the God-given bonds of biological parents and children.  Unpacking the history of Chief Justice Moore’s writings and views on this topic are beyond the scope of this article.  Suffice it to say for now, the dissents in Ex parte R.G., 1140191 (Ala. January 30, 2015) and Ex parte D.E., 1140207 (Ala. January 30, 2015) represent the most recent installment in what may be a changing tide of sentiment in the legal community relating to the Supreme Court’s review of termination-of-parental-rights cases.  Namely, Chief Justice Moore believes that “constitutional concerns implicated in every termination-of-parental-rights case command stricter scrutiny than the ore tenus rule provides.”  R.G.  Hopefully, we will give a full treatment of this development in future editions.

[1] Alabama Office of Vital Statistics, available at: https://acis.alabama.gov/1000/1050viewdoc.cfm?TI=249498&No=644949&Code=1182663&Type_Cd=1000. One positive signal is that 186 children were given the name “Samuel” in 2013, although sadly it is down from 207 in 2012.

[2] Interestingly, the father didn’t even show up at the trial—but his attorney did. “Who paid for his attorney to show up at trial and appeal the decision?” Most likely, “You did.” The juvenile court is legally obligated to appoint an attorney to an indigent parent.

12th Annual Camp APAC

Camp APAC 2015 - banner 648x185Alabama Pre/Post Adoption Connections (APAC) is holding its 12th Annual Camp APAC from June 16-19 at Camp Chandler in Wetumpka, Alabama.

From APAC’s website:

This wonderful event is for adopted children ages 9 to 18, along with their siblings (birth and foster siblings living in the same household) who are connected to DHR (i.e. at least one camp applicant must be adopted from foster care). Children in permanent custody of DHR with a plan of adoption by their current placement are also eligible to attend. Limited slots will also be available for non-DHR connected families at a cost of $175 for these 4 great days of fun! 

The application deadline is on February 15.

Click here to apply to be a camper, and learn more about Camp Chandler on their website.