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N.Z. v. J.C.

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

November 15, 2019

N.Z.
v.
J.C. and E.C.

          Appeals from Talladega Juvenile Court JU-18-100015.03 and JU-18-100016.03

          THOMPSON, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         On February 2, 2018, B.C.J. and C.J. filed in the Talladega Juvenile Court ("the juvenile court") petitions seeking to have J.R.J. and K.M.J. ("the children") declared dependent and an award of custody of the children.[1] Those dependency petitions were assigned case numbers JU-18-100015.01 and JU-18-100016.01 ("the .01 actions"). The record indicates that B.C.J. is the half brother of the children. B.C.J. is the son of J.J., the children's father.[2] N.Z. is the mother of the children. The testimony of the parties and comments by the juvenile-court judge indicate that the juvenile court ordered, either orally or in writing, that B.C.J. and C.J. were awarded pendente lite custody of the children in March 2018 so that the children could be enrolled in school.[3]

         On May 31, 2018, R.E. and S.E., who are C.J.'s parents, also filed dependency petitions pertaining to the children, and those petitions were assigned case numbers JU-18-100015.02 and JU-18-100016.02 ("the .02 actions").

         On August 30, 2018, J.C. and E.C. filed in the juvenile court petitions seeking to have the children declared dependent and an award of custody of the children. J.C. and E.C.'s dependency petitions were assigned case numbers JU-18-100015.03 and JU-18-100016.03 ("the .03 actions"). On October 1, 2018, the juvenile court entered an order in the .02 actions and in one of the .03 actions in which it determined that the children were, at that time, living in the home of J.C. and E.C., and it awarded pendente lite custody of the children to J.C. and E.C.[4]

         The juvenile court conducted an ore tenus hearing on all of the pending actions on November 2, 2018. At that hearing, C.J. testified that she no longer wished to pursue the .01 actions because she and B.C.J. had separated; B.C.J. did not appear at the ore tenus hearing. Also at that hearing, S.E. testified that, because of family and health reasons, she and R.E. could no longer prosecute the .02 actions. On November 14, 2018, the juvenile court entered orders dismissing the .01 actions and the .02 actions. The .03 actions remained pending at that time.

         On January 17, 2019, the juvenile court entered judgments in the .03 actions in which it found the children dependent and awarded custody of the children to J.C. and E.C. Each parent filed a postjudgment motion, and the juvenile court entered an order denying those motions. The mother timely appealed to this court from the January 17, 2019, judgments; the father is not a party to these appeals.

         At the time of the November 2, 2018, hearing, K.M.J. was 13 years old and J.R.J. was 12 years old. The children had lived with their mother in Florida until December 2017.

         C.J. testified that the children had come to visit B.C.J. at their home in Alpine during the week before Christmas 2017 and that the children had stayed with B.C.J. and C.J. throughout the holidays. It is undisputed that the mother's housing situation was unstable at that time. Therefore, C.J. stated, B.C.J. offered to allow the children to remain in their home until the mother was more stable. The mother testified that she agreed to allow the children to remain in Alabama with B.C.J. and C.J. after December 2017. The .01 actions were initiated by B.C.J. and C.J. on February 2, 2018.

         C.J. testified that she and B.C.J. had separated after the .01 actions had been initiated; it appears that that separation took place in the late spring of 2018. Thereafter, C.J. and the children moved into the home of C.J.'s parents, R.E. and S.E., who also reside in Alpine.

         S.E., C.J.'s mother, testified that the children moved into her home just before the end of the 2017-2018 school year, in late May 2018. S.E. explained that she had recognized that B.C.J. and C.J. could not take care of the children, and, therefore, she said, she and R.E. had initiated the .02 actions seeking to have the children found dependent and an award of custody of the children. S.E. testified, however, that, after the .02 actions were initiated, R.E. suffered a heart attack. S.E. stated that she and R.E. could no longer take care of the children because of health reasons and because of other, unspecified family reasons.

         According to S.E. and E.C., the children had moved into the home of J.C. and E.C., who live in Sterrett, in September 2018. S.E. explained that E.C. is her former stepdaughter and the half-sister of C.J. and that J.C. is E.C.'s husband. J.C. and E.C. initiated the .03 actions at around that time, on August 30, 2018.

         On appeal of the January 17, 2019, dependency judgments, the mother argues only that the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction to enter the January 17, 2019, judgments. Although this court does not normally consider arguments asserted for the first time on appeal, arguments related to a court's subject-matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time. R.J.R. v. C.J.S., 72 So.3d 643, 645-46 (Ala. Civ. App. 2011).

         In asserting her argument on appeal, the mother relies on the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ("the UCCJEA"), § 30-3B-101 et seq., Ala. Code 1975. The UCCJEA governs child-custody proceedings, including dependency actions in which custody or visitation is an issue. § 30-3B-102(4), Ala. Code 1975; M.B.L. v. G.G.L., 1 So.3d 1048, 1050 (Ala. Civ. App. 2008); and H.T. v. Cleburne Cty. Dep't of Human Res., 163 So.3d 1054, 1062 (Ala. Civ. App. 2014). "In order to make a custody determination incident to a dependency determination, a juvenile court ...


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