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B.H. v. Tuscaloosa County Department of Human Resources

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

January 31, 2014

B.H.
v.
Tuscaloosa County Department of Human Resources

Released for Publication May 15, 2015.

As Amended October 16, 2014.

Appeals from Tuscaloosa Juvenile Court. (JU-12-549.01, JU-12-550.01, and JU-12-566.01). Elizabeth C. Hamner, Trial Judge.

For Appellant: Michael J. Cartee, Tuscaloosa.

For Appellee: Luther Strange, Attorney General, Sharon E. Ficquette, General Counsel, Elizabeth Hendrix, Assistant Attorney General, Department of Human Resources.

THOMPSON, Presiding Judge. Pittman, Thomas, and Donaldson, JJ., concur. Moore, J., concurs in the result, with writing. MOORE, Judge, concurring in the result.

OPINION

Page 1216

THOMPSON, Presiding Judge.

In November 2012, the Tuscaloosa County Department of Human Resources (" DHR" ) filed petitions in the Tuscaloosa Juvenile Court (" the juvenile court" ) seeking to have J.M.H., I.H., and A.H. (hereinafter collectively referred to as " the children" ) declared dependent and seeking an award of custody of the children.

The record indicates that B.H. (" the mother" ) and M.H. (" the father" ) adopted the children in 2001. In 2008, the mother and the father were divorced by a judgment of the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court (" the circuit court" ). Pursuant to the 2008 divorce judgment, the father was awarded sole custody of the children. The divorce judgment provided that the mother had no child-support obligation because the mother and the father intended to file a joint action seeking to terminate the mother's parental rights to the children. It is undisputed that, before the initiation of DHR's dependency actions pertaining to the children, neither the mother nor the father had initiated an action seeking to terminate the mother's parental rights to the children, and, therefore, the mother's parental rights to the children had not been terminated at the time DHR became involved with the children.

In March 2013, in three separate decisions, the juvenile-court referee, based on the stipulation of the parties, determined the children to be dependent and awarded custody of them to DHR. In those decisions, the juvenile court referee also scheduled a hearing before the referee for the determination of the mother's and the father's

Page 1217

respective child-support obligations for the children. See § 12-15-314(e), Ala. Code 1975 ( " When a child is placed in the legal custody of the Department of Human Resources ... pursuant to this section and when the parent, legal guardian, or legal custodian of the child has resources for child support, the juvenile court shall order child support in conformity with the child support guidelines as set out in Rule 32, Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration." ). The juvenile court ratified those decisions of the referee on March 19, 2013. See Rule 2.1(G), Ala. R. Juv. P. (" The findings and recommendations of the referee shall become the order of the court when ratified by the original signature of a judge with authority over juvenile matters." ); and § 12-15-106(g), Ala. Code 1975 (same).

On May 16, 2013, the juvenile-court referee rendered decisions in which he reaffirmed the findings in the March 2013 decisions that had been ratified by the juvenile court and ordered the mother and the father to pay certain amounts in child support. Those decisions also ordered that the mother and the father pay child-support arrearages for April ...


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