Last week's Alabama Supreme Court decision, T.C. v. Mac. M. and Mar. M. may carry with it a very dangerous side-effect. The court undertook to determine appellate jurisdiction of Juvenile Court matters in lite of recent changes to the Code of Alabama. The court determined that the changes in the code did not increase jurisdiction of these matters. Essentially, though the statute changed, jurisdiction did not. However, what is troubling is that now a path has been prepared, through the Court's factual analysis of T.C., that should a trial court so choose they can essentially prevent all appeals of dependency findings. The Juvenile Code allows for dependency proceedings to be split into two hearings. First a dependency trial is held wherein the court determines if the child is in need of care/supervision of the state. Then the trial court can set the matter for a later dispositional hearing where the custody of the child is set forth. If the trial court at the time of a finding of dependency simply puts on its order that it is granting "pendente lite custody" as opposed to "temporary custody" the order will not be appealable. Then the court may enter "pendente lite" orders in perpetuity. A parent could lose custody of a child without any recourse simply because the trial court made a poor word choice when it entered its order. It is neither uncommon nor unheard of for cases to continue longer than a year between dependency and disposition. This fact seems to have been ignored by the Alabama Supreme Court. This case emphasizes the need for Family Court Attorneys to scrutinize orders and make sure their client's don't get caught in such a bad situation with no way out.
Austin Burdick is an experienced appellate and constitutional attorney.
Contact Austin at 205.565.8909
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