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.
If you are unhappy with the outcome of your case you need to begin taking steps to correct injustice immediately. There are strict time limits and procedural rules that must be adhered to so that your appeal can be preserved and heard. You must file a Notice of Appeal within the time allowed by law or your appeal will be dismissed. The time you have to file your appeal differs depending on the kind of case that you have and what court held your initial trial. For instance, if your case was a dependency, termination of parental rights, delinquency or other family court case heard in the district court you will only have 14 days to file your Notice of Appeal. Also, you need to understand where your appeal is going to be heard. Some appeals such as those from municipal court and others will simply be transferred to the circuit court in the county and you will get a new trial. Other appeals such as those from the circuit court or from a family court case where a record exists will go to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals or Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. Still other appeals would be appealed directly to the Alabama Supreme Court. Preparing your case for appeal may also mean that you need to file other post-judgment motions with the trial court to properly preserve the record and position yourself for appeal. These motions also must be filed timely. If you are considering appealing your case call us as soon as possible. The clock is ticking and you don't want to lose out simply because you filed too late. We have the experience necessary to assess your case and guide you through the appeal process.