Children Need their Caregivers to Intervene and Become Parties to Juvenile Court Matters: M.S. and D.S., CL-2023-0223 (Ala. Civ. App. Oct. 20, 2023)
A child’s matter in the juvenile court is assigned a case number and an action number. For example, when DHR becomes involved with a child and files a dependency petition to take emergency custody, the child’s case and action number may look like: JU-2023-01234.01.
From there, any new petitions will begin a new action number, which is a separate matter and will have a separate record. For example, if DHR files to terminate a parent’s rights, it would become JU-2023-01234.02.
Say you are a relative who wants to petition for custody, so you file a verified custody petition. Your petition will be assigned JU-2023-01234.03.
But, what if you know there are hearings coming up in the .01 and .02 actions, and you want to present facts to the court? Perhaps you are worried that something will happen at the .01 or .02 hearing that will affect your chances of getting custody.
Without being a party to the other actions, you are not entitled to be part of the hearings. In order to become a party, you must request intervention.
What would it take for you, a non-parent, to intervene in the child’s other juvenile matters?
The Court of Appeals recently reversed a juvenile court’s decision to deny a motion to intervene by permissive intervention, in M.S. and D.S. v. Calhoun Cnty. Dept. of Human Res., No. CL-2023-0223 (Ala. Civ. App. Oct. 20, 2023).
In M.S., the maternal grandmother and step-grandfather moved to intervene in the child’s dependency matter, based on 1) intervention of right and 2) permissive intervention.
The juvenile court held a hearing at which it considered dependency and the grandparents’ motion to intervene. The juvenile court denied their motion to intervene, stating that a) the maternal grandparents had no statutory unconditional or conditional right to intervene, and b) nothing would impede DHR from considering the grandparents for placement.
However, the Court of Appeals concluded that “the juvenile court exceeded its discretion in denying the maternal grandparents’ motion [to intervene] to the extent that it sought permissive intervention.”
Ala. R. Civ. P. 24(b) provides:
Upon timely application anyone may be permitted to intervene in an action: (1) when a statute confers a conditional right to intervene; or (2) when an applicant’s claim or defense and the main action have a question of law or fact in common. . . . In exercising its discretion the court shall consider whether the intervention will unduly delay or prejudice the adjudication of the rights of the original parties.
Analyzing the case under Rule 24(b), the Court of Appeals held that the maternal grandparents’ claim unquestionably involved questions of law and fact in common with the main dependency action. The maternal grandparents “intended to seek custody” and “alleged that it would be in the best interests of the child for them to obtain her custody.”
The grandparents filed their motion to intervene only eight days after the dependency petition was filed, so the dependency proceeding “would not have been unduly delayed by allowing them to intervene.” Permitting intervention will “only allow the juvenile court to fairly decide the custodial disposition for the child with more developed facts than otherwise.” (emphasis added).
The Court of Appeals also concluded that it “cannot discern how [the maternal grandparents’] intervention would prejudice the adjudication of the rights of the Calhoun County DHR or of the mother and the father.”
The Court noted that “the record contains no evidence indicating that it would be contrary to the best interests of the child to allow the intervention.” The juvenile court had expressed concerns regarding the suitability of the grandparents as custodians, but “in ruling on a motion to intervene, a court should refrain from considering the ultimate merits of the claim to be heard following intervention.” (emphasis added).
But, DHR could still consider the grandparents for placement – so why did the grandparents need to intervene?
Even though the juvenile court indicated that DHR could still consider the grandparents for placement, the Court of Appeals found that the denial of the motion to intervene could prejudice the grandparents because 1) DHR actively opposed their claim for custody, and 2) the parents were accused of murdering their own children.
The grandparents therefore could make their case for custody “only by being accorded the status of parties with a right to present evidence on their own behalf,” since the existing parties would not be likely to represent the grandparents’ interests.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s order, and the grandparents were permitted to intervene.
The Court did not reach the issue of intervention as of right in a juvenile matter, because the grandparents did not raise that issue to the trial court. But, this case provides great insight on permissive intervention under Rule 24(b).
Gretchen Nicole Hedke came to The Adoption Law Firm in May 2021 as an intern during her 2L summer at the University of Alabama School of Law. Gretchen began practicing law in October 2022 and officially became an associate attorney with the firm.
Gretchen received her B.S. in Political Science and French, summa cum laude, from The University of Alabama in 2019 and her J.D. from The University of Alabama School of Law in 2022. There, she was a member, Secretary, and then President of the Saint Thomas More Society.
Gretchen focuses primarily on post-TPR adoptions out of foster care and appellate writing.