Appeal from Limestone Juvenile Court (JU-12-154.01)
ON REMAND FROM THE ALABAMA SUPREME COURT
C.C. ("the father") appeals from a judgment of the Limestone Juvenile Court ("the juvenile court") to the extent that it terminated his parental rights to J.C. ("the child") upon the petition of L.J. ("the mother"). We reverse.
"The record reflects that the mother initiated a civil action against the father in the juvenile court in July 2012, requesting that the juvenile court establish the father's paternity of the child and that that court also terminate the father's parental rights on the basis that the father had purportedly abandoned the child and had failed to visit with or provide for the material needs of the child. The father, initially acting pro se, filed an answer generally denying the allegations of the mother's complaint pertinent to her termination request, but he did not deny paternity, and the juvenile court entered on order in September 2012 determining that the father was indeed the biological father of the child. The father, acting through counsel, then amended his answer and asserted a counterclaim seeking joint legal custody, visitation rights, and a child-support award for the benefit of the mother.
"After an ore tenus hearing, at which the mother, the father, and the mother's mother testified, the juvenile court entered a judgment in March 2013 terminating the father's parental rights, thereby implicitly denying the relief requested by the father in his counterclaim. The father timely appealed from the judgment of the juvenile court, and the judge of that court certified the record as adequate for review by this court pursuant to Rule 28(A)(1)(a), Ala. R. Juv. P."
C.C. v. L.J., [Ms. 2120534, Sept. 6, 2013] ___So. 3d ___, ___ (Ala. Civ. App. 2013).
On appeal, the father first argued that the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction over the termination-of-parental-rights case because there was no finding of dependency as to the child. This court, on original submission, agreed and dismissed the appeal with instructions to the juvenile court to vacate its void judgment.___ So.3d at___ . On the mother's petition for a writ of certiorari, however, the supreme court reversed this court's decision, holding that the juvenile court did have jurisdiction over the case. Ex parte L.J., [Ms. 1121462, Sept. 30, 2014] ___So. 3d ___, ___ (Ala. 2014). The supreme court remanded the cause to this court for us to consider the father's remaining arguments, which had been pretermitted by this court on original submission because of our dismissal of the appeal.___ So.3d at__ .
The father argues that the juvenile court erred in terminating his parental rights because, he says, there was not clear and convincing evidence indicating that he was unable or unwilling to care for the child and because there were viable alternatives to termination of his parental rights.
"The two-prong test that a court must apply in a parental rights termination case brought by a custodial parent consists of the following: First, the court must find that there are grounds for the termination of parental rights, including, but not limited to, those specifically set forth in [Ala. Code 1975, ] § 26–18–7 [amended and renumbered as Ala. Code 1975, § 12–15–319]. Second, after the court has found that there exist grounds to order the termination of parental rights, the court must inquire as to whether all viable alternatives to a termination of parental rights have been considered."
Ex parte Beasley, 564 So.2d 950, 954 (Ala. 1990).
"A juvenile court's judgment terminating parental rights must be supported by clear and convincing evidence. Bowman v. State Dep't of Human Res., 534 So.2d 304, 305 (Ala. Civ. App. 1988). 'Clear and convincing evidence' is '"[e]vidence that, when weighed against evidence in opposition, will produce in the mind of the trier of fact a firm conviction as to each essential element of the claim and a high probability as to the correctness of the conclusion."' L.M. v. D.D.F., 840 So.2d 171, 179 (Ala. Civ. App. 2002) (quoting Ala. Code 1975, § 6–11–20(b)(4)); see also Ex parte McInish, 47 So.3d 767 (Ala. 2008) (explaining standard of review of factual determinations required to be based on clear and convincing evidence). A juvenile court's ...