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H.C. v. S.L.

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

March 30, 2018

H.C.
v.
S.L.

          Appeal from Jefferson Juvenile Court, Bessemer Division (JU-15-741.01)

          THOMPSON, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         This is the second time these parties have been before this court.

         The procedural history of this case is set forth in H.C. v. S.L., [Ms. 2160304, Sept. 15, 2017] ___ So.3d ___, ___ (Ala. Civ. App. 2017), as follows:

"On August 12, 2015, S.L. ('the paternal grandmother') filed in the Jefferson Juvenile Court, Bessemer Division ('the juvenile court'), a petition seeking to have N.L. ('the child') declared dependent and seeking an award of custody of the child. The juvenile court entered an order on September 1, 2015, finding the child dependent and awarding the paternal grandmother pendente lite custody of the child. A similar order was entered on October 19, 2015. It is undisputed that H.C. ('the mother') had not been served at the time either of those orders was entered. The paternal grandmother filed an amended dependency petition on December 11, 2015.
"The juvenile court conducted a hearing on May 11, 2016, and July 5, 2016. At the close of that hearing, the juvenile court orally found the child dependent, cited reasons for that finding, and scheduled a dispositional hearing for December 2016, during which, it said, it would receive additional evidence from the parties. The juvenile court entered an order on July 8, 2016, in which it found the child dependent, awarded custody to the paternal grandmother, and ordered the attorneys for the parties and the child's guardian ad litem to agree on a visitation schedule for the mother for the fall of 2016. In that order, the juvenile court scheduled the dispositional hearing for December 15, 2016.
"The juvenile court conducted the dispositional hearing on December 15, 2016, and December 16, 2016. On December 22, 2016, the juvenile court entered a judgment in which it noted that the child had previously been found dependent, awarded custody of the child to the paternal grandmother, and closed the case. ...[T]he mother timely appealed.
"The mother argue[d] on appeal that the juvenile court erred in awarding custody of the child to the paternal grandmother because, she [said], the child was not dependent at the time the December 22, 2016, dispositional judgment was entered."

         This court noted that the juvenile court could make a custodial disposition of the child only if it determined that the child was dependent at the time it entered the December 22, 2016, judgment. See H.C. v. S.L., ___ So.3d at ___ (citing T.B. v. T.H., 30 So.3d 429, 431 (Ala. Civ. App. 2009), and V.W. v. G.W., 990 So.2d 414, 417 (Ala. Civ. App. 2008)). In its December 22, 2016, judgment, the juvenile court had not made a finding regarding whether the child was dependent at the time of that judgment. This court held that, given the record, we could not conclude that a dependency determination was implicit in the juvenile court's December 22, 2016, judgment. ___ So.3d at ___ (citing, among other cases, S.L.M. v. S.C., 171 So.3d 656 (Ala. Civ. App. 2013), and J.P. v. S.S., 989 So.2d 591, 598 (Ala. Civ. App. 2008)). This court explained:

"This court has reviewed the evidence in the record on appeal. It is not clear from our review whether the child remained dependent when the December 22, 2016, dispositional judgment was entered, and, therefore, this court cannot, as we did in J.P. v. S.S., supra, interpret the juvenile court's December 22, 2016, judgment as containing an implicit dependency determination. We conclude that the juvenile court must make a determination regarding whether the child remained dependent at the time the December 22, 2016, judgment was entered."

___ So.3d at ___. Accordingly, we reversed the December 22, 2016, judgment and remanded the cause to the juvenile court to enter a new judgment.

         On October 11, 2017, the juvenile court entered a judgment on remand finding that, at the time of the December 22, 2016, judgment, the child had remained dependent. The mother again timely appealed.

         The record indicates the following pertinent facts. The mother and the father never married, but they lived together in Colorado. The child was born in Colorado in February 2010, and the mother, the father, and the child lived there together for some period. The paternal grandparents, the maternal grandmother, and the maternal grandfather all live in Alabama. The maternal grandmother and the maternal grandfather are divorced.

         The evidence also indicated that the mother has had difficulty maintaining a stable residence in Colorado. The mother moves frequently, often every six months or so, with the exception of a period of two-and-a-half years during which she lived with a boyfriend. The child visited Alabama for extended periods when the mother lived with that boyfriend.

         The mother has been consistently employed, although she has changed jobs several times in the years since the child's birth. At the time the December 22, 2016, judgment was entered, the mother had been employed, and remained employed, by the same casino for at least two years.

         The mother also acknowledged that the Colorado equivalent of the Department of Human Resources had investigated her on two occasions during the child's life. According to the mother, a neighbor was unhappy when she purchased the child two pet rats, and the neighbor contacted the child-protection agency. The mother stated that a social worker showed up unannounced and searched her home but that the social worker did not see a problem. On the other occasion, the mother left the child with her roommate, and the child went to a neighbor's house without the roommate's knowledge. The mother testified that, on that, occasion, a social worker questioned her but that the Colorado child-protection agency did not open an investigation with regard to that incident.

         The father did not travel to Alabama to attend any of the court hearings. The mother testified that the father had been living in a "sober house, " i.e., a transitional home for those leaving substance-abuse treatment, for approximately four years. The mother explained that the father liked the ...


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