The Alabama Civil Court of Appeals recently released its ruling in D.S. v. L.T. in which a father appealed the termination of his parental rights on the grounds that the evidence did not establish that no viable alternative existed. The father refers to a previous case, J.G. v. Lauderdale County Department of Human Resources, [Ms. 2210452, Jan. 13, 2023] ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. Civ. App. 2023), as reason to overturn the lower court’s ruling. The Court of Appeals states that another case, S.N.W. v. M.D.F.H, applies a better comparison to the father’s case.
The case originated in Tuscaloosa County Juvenile Court in December 2022 when L.T., the mother, sought to terminate the parental rights of D.S., the father. In the years since their marriage in 2015, the mother testified that the father has developed psychiatric health issues and has been combative concerning treatment. She feared for her safety after several bizarre incidents. According to the mother’s testimony, the father had texted inappropriate things to her about her daughter from another marriage and even ransacked their home in 2018. The couple was divorced later that year, and the father was allowed supervised visitations only. Harassment and other bizarre behaviors and were followed by several periods of incarceration in 2019. In late 2021 the father was arrested for discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle and sentenced to twenty years in prison.
Following the father’s sentencing, the mother sought full custody of the child. Because of the length of time the father had spent in jail and prison, the mother’s new husband, the step-father, desired to adopt the child, as he was the only father-figure the child had known. The Tuscaloosa Juvenile Court terminated the parental rights of the incarcerated father.
In his appeal, the father used the J.G. case as reason for the Court of Appeals to reverse the lower court’s decision. In that case, the court reversed the termination of J.G.’s parental rights on the grounds that the children were not in any harm from J.G. In their ruling, the Court leaned on a previous ruling in J.C.D. v. Lauderdale County Department of Human Resources, which stated that “This court has consistently held that termination of the parental rights of a noncustodial parent is not appropriate in cases in which the children can safely reside with the custodial parent and the continuation of the noncustodial parent’s relationship does not present any harm to the children.” 180 So. 3d 900, 901 (Ala. Civ. App. 2015). The court in J.G. overturned the termination of J.G.’s parental rights. In this case however, the Court found that J.G. did not apply.
After severing the tie between J.G. and the father’s appeal, the court turned to S.N.W v. M.D.F.H., 127 So. 3d 1225 (Ala. Civ. App. 2013). In this case, a seemingly similar situation was presented, but unlike in J.G., the Court affirmed the termination of parental rights. The father in the S.N.W. case was serving a twenty year prison sentence and the step-father wanted to adopt the child. S.N.W. bore greater similarity to the current case than did J.G. The Court of Appeals explained that “maintaining the status quo is a viable option to terminating parental rights when the parent and the child enjoy a relationship with some beneficial aspects that should be preserved such that it would be in the child’s best interests to continue the relationship.” S.N.W., 127 So. 3d at 1230.
Here, the father had gone years without seeing his child and had no relationship with said child. His current incarceration would guarantee his inability participate in the child’s life. Therefore no beneficial aspects existed that needed to be preserved by overturning TPR. In their ruling of D.S. v. L.T. the Court of Appeals relies on the S.N.W. ruling as their basis for upholding the lower court’s ruling terminating the parental rights of the father and denying his appeal.