The case of B.L., Jr. v. Elmore County Department of Human Resources (2190066 Appeal from Elmore Juvenile Court JU- 18-144. 02) moved from the Juvenile Court of Elmore County to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals during the fall of 2020. This case was appealed on the question of the termination of parental rights of B.L., Jr. (the father). The child in question was born on July 11, 2018. At the time of the birth, the mother tested positive for cocaine and opioids, and the child tested positive for a cocaine metabolite. Both the child and the father submitted to paternity testing which showed presumed the father was not the biological father. Regardless, the father reported to the Department of Human Resources that he would assume custody of the child. In May of 2019, DHR filed a complaint in the juvenile court requesting the termination of parental rights of both the father and the mother.
DHR claimed that the father was unwilling or unable to provide for the child. DHR alleged that the father had demonstrated an excessive use of controlled substances, refused to provide financially for the child (materially and in child support), failed to regularly visit the child, failed to communicate with the child consistently, and failed to rehabilitate himself in accordance with DHR’s Individualized Service Plan. In the fall of 2019, the court ruled to terminate parental rights. The father filed an appeal on the grounds that DHR failed to provide clear and convincing evidence that warranted the court’s decision.
Section 12-15-319 of the Code of Alabama stipulates adequate grounds for the termination of parental rights. Subsection 12-15-319 (a)(2) states that the juvenile court must consider “excessive use of alcohol or controlled substances, of a duration or nature as to render the parent unable to care for the needs of the child”. DHR successfully showed that the father had a history of drug abuse, but was unable to prove any current indications of substance abuse. The court stated that this fact alone is not sufficient to have the juvenile court’s ruling overturned. The father also asserted that DHR failed to provide adequate evidence that the father withheld child support, that the father lacked the mental or physical ability to care for the child, or that the father’s past transgressions rendered him unable to care for the child in the present circumstance.
The appellate court ruled in favor of the father, and overturned the juvenile court’s ruling. In reaching its decision the court analyzed A.M. v. St. Clair County Department of Human Resources. In A.M. v. St. Clair County Department of Human Resources the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals found parental rights to be terminated prematurely. In this case, the child’s guardian ad litem testified to the substantial progress of the father towards rehabilitation, and it was revealed that the father had been awarded $118,000 from a settlement that he claimed would be used to buy a suitable home for himself and the child. Because the termination of parental rights causes detriment to the “heart of the family unit”, it should only be arrived at under “the most egregious circumstances” (Ex parte Beasley, 564 So. 2d 950 (Ala. 1990) ). With this precedent in mind, the Civil Court of Appeals reversed the judgment and remanded the case to the juvenile court.
As this case illustrates, termination of parental rights can be a very complex ruling for a court to make. In fact, Presiding Judge Thompson of the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals dissented to the reversal claiming that enough clear and convincing evidence of the need for termination had been presented (J.C. v. State Dep’t of Human Res.). Judge Thompson claimed that there is a narrow standard of review, and that appellate courts should defer to the facts of the Juvenile Court. Even so, the appellate court’s ruling to overturn the juvenile court’s decision stands. At the end of the day, the child’s welfare is the primary concern, and The Alabama Civil Court of Appeals found that Elmore County DHR had not given sufficient evidence to believe the father would not be a benefit to the child’s welfare.
Rachel Dees is from Hoover, Alabama and is currently a senior at Auburn University. She is majoring in Global Studies with minors in Political Science, Philosophy, and Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies. Rachel has a passion for helping people that stems from devotion to the Lord. She hopes to attend law school in order to further the Kingdom through the practice of law.