Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Case Law Development: Necessity of Hearing when Allegations of Dependency Raised

In a case testing the limits of juvenile court jurisdiction, maternal grandparents had filed a petition in juvenile court requesting custody of their grandchild, alleging the child's dependency due to the parents' drug use and incarceration.  Parents then entered into a stipulated agreement with paternal grandparents, acknowledging that the parents were unable to care for the child and placing the child with paternal grandparents.  The juvenile court determined, without holding a hearing, that the child was not dependent because he had been placed by the parents with the paternal grandparents.

On appeal, the Alabama Court of Appeals held that, "in cases such as the one now before us in which there are allegations that the child is dependent, and in which the only sworn testimony before the juvenile court tends to establish that the child is dependent, the juvenile court commits reversible error by concluding that the child is not dependent without at least conducting an evidentiary hearing and affording the parties the opportunity to present evidence as to whether the child is a "dependent child" within the meaning of [the juvenile code].... and there must be a dispositional hearing to determine who should be given custody."

A concurring justice agreed that the trial court's finding should be reversed but argued that the case was merely a custody dispute between grandparents, beyond the juridiction of the juvenile court, and that there was no basis for concluding that the state needed to take jurisdiction over the child.  Accordingly, the dissenting judge would remand with directions to dismiss the action.

The case contains lengthy excerpts from the stipulated judgment and the affidavits of the parties and would make a good basis for a class problem.

Ex parte W.H., Jr., and K.H., 2006 Ala. Civ. App. LEXIS 236 (May 5, 2006) bgf

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