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G.S. v. R.L.

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

February 23, 2018

G.S.
v.
R.L. G.S.
v.
D.K. G.S.
v.
G.R.

         Appeal from Madison Juvenile Court (JU-16-281.01, JU-16-282.01, JU-16-283.01)

          MOORE, Judge.

         G.S. ("the mother"), the mother of S.L., M.K., and P.S. ("the children"), appeals from a judgment, entered by the Madison Juvenile Court ("the juvenile court") in three separate cases on May 10, 2017, transferring custody of S.L., M.K., and P.S. from the mother to R.L., D.K., and G.R., respectively.

         Facts and Procedural Background

         S.L. was born on November 14, 2011; M.K. was born on October 29, 2012; and P.S. was born on May 29, 2014. Since their births, the children had resided with the mother in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, until the children's maternal grandmother, G.R. ("the maternal grandmother"), on or about March 7, 2016, took the children to her residence in Huntsville, Alabama.

         On March 14, 2016, the maternal grandmother filed in the juvenile court three separate, but almost identical, petitions seeking custody of each child on the basis of the children's alleged dependency as a result of their being exposed to drug abuse, neglected, and abandoned.[1] The petition concerning S.L. was assigned case no. JU-16-281.01; the petition concerning M.K. was assigned case no. JU-16-282.01; and the petition concerning P.S. was assigned case no. JU-16-283.01. In each petition, the maternal grandmother alleged that the children had been residing with her for two months. The maternal grandmother further notified the juvenile court that a Tennessee court had previously opened cases and entered orders relating to the children, although the maternal grandmother did not specify the nature of those cases and orders.

         Before any service was made on the mother or any other interested parties, the juvenile court awarded the maternal grandmother pendente lite custody of the children on May 6, 2016. R.L., who is a resident of Tennessee, and D.K., who is a resident of Kentucky, subsequently appeared before the juvenile court, asserting their paternity of S.L. and M.K., respectively. R.L. and D.K. filed answers and counterclaims denying the dependency of, and seeking custody of, S.L. and M.K., respectively. In their counterclaims, which were filed in 2017, R.L. and D.K. both pointed out that the children had been residing in Alabama with the maternal grandmother for more than six consecutive months and both purported to submit to the jurisdiction of the juvenile court to decide the question of the dependency and custody of S.L. and M.K.

         The juvenile court consolidated the cases for a single trial, which commenced on March 16, 2017. On March 17, 2017, the juvenile court entered an order awarding pendente lite custody of S.L. to R.L. and a separate order awarding pendente lite custody of M.K. to D.K. After the trial was concluded on April 6, 2017, the juvenile court, on May 10, 2017, rendered a judgment, which was entered in all three cases, finding that S.L. and M.K. were not dependent but that a change of custody to their respective fathers would "promote the best interests of [S.L. and M.K.] and that the benefits to [S.L. and M.K.] of a change of custody outweigh[s] the inherent detriments." The juvenile court further found P.S. to be a dependent child and awarded custody of P.S. to the maternal grandmother. On May 12, 2017, the mother filed notices of appeal in all three cases. This court consolidated the appeals.

         Discussion

         The maternal grandmother commenced the proceedings in the juvenile court by filing petitions indicating that the children had resided in Tennessee since their births but that they had been residing with her in her home in Huntsville for the preceding two months.[2] That information should have triggered the juvenile court to investigate its jurisdiction over the petitions under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ("the UCCJEA"), § 30-3B-101 et seq., Ala. Code 1975, which governs subject-matter jurisdiction over all child-custody proceedings, including dependency and modification proceedings. See Ala. Code 1975, § 30-3B-102(4).

          The UCCJEA generally provides that an Alabama court may exercise jurisdiction over a child-custody proceeding only when Alabama is the home state of the child at issue. See J.D. v. Lauderdale Cty. Dep't of Human Res., 121 So.3d 381, 384-85 (Ala. Civ. App. 2013). Section 30-3B-102(7), Ala. Code 1975, defines "home state" as

"[t]he state in which a child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding. ... A period of temporary absence of the child or any of the mentioned persons is part of the period."

         The information in the petitions in these cases indicated that Tennessee, not Alabama, was the home state of the children at the time of the filing of the petitions. Accordingly, the juvenile court could not have exercised home-state jurisdiction but, rather, could have exercised jurisdiction only as otherwise authorized by the UCCJEA.

         Under §§ 30-3B-201(a)(2) or (a)(3), an Alabama court without home-state jurisdiction can exercise jurisdiction over a child-custody proceeding if a court, or all courts, with home-state jurisdiction has declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that the Alabama court constitutes the more appropriate forum.[3] The record in these cases does not contain any order from any Tennessee court declining to exercise its home-state jurisdiction over the children on the ground that the juvenile court constituted a more appropriate forum.[4] Thus, the juvenile court did not have jurisdiction over the maternal grandmother's dependency petitions or R.L.'s and D.K.'s counterclaims seeking custody of S.L. and M.K., respectively, through this ...


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