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.  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.”
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.
 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.  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.