Plain Talk in Winston County About Drugs and Parenting

One of the most enduring stories from Alabama during the Civil War concerns the stand taken by the “hill people” of Winston County against the secession of the southern states from the US. Too poor to own slaves and unwilling to risk their lives for the rich men who did, they rejected the optimistic and bellicose anti-North frenzy that had spread throughout the south. It’s not true that the “Free State of Winston” seceded from Alabama, but it did officially remain neutral throughout the war at great cost to lives, property, and business.

We heard a little of that “Free State” candor in a recent case from Winston County Juvenile Court, A.S. v. T.R.B., Case No. 2150996 (Ala. Civ. App. June 9, 2017).  The case focuses on the arcane issue of substantive due process vs procedural due process. I don’t care much about that, and the odds are you don’t care much about it either, so let’s focus instead on the plain-spoken juvenile court judge and his admonition to the unmarried parents before him.

Each parent apparently had assured the judge that he or she was drug free. When the mother alleged that the father had a drug problem, the court ordered each parent to submit to a drug test. The judge ordered both parents to submit to a drug test, and both tested positive. Mom’s screen was positive for THC (marijuana). Dad’s was positive for THC and a faint trace of methamphetamine.

At the end of the hearing, the judge went on the record to chastise both parents:

“And the whole time we’re talking about what’s in [the child’s] best interest. You know, what are we going to do? And I’m just–I’m really–I’m upset and I’m disappointed in the both of you.

“And here’s what we’re going to do. We’re not doing the final order today. We’re going to do a temporary order. Y’all are submitting income affidavits. [P.B. and T.R.B., Sr., the child’s paternal grandparents], y’all haven’t prepared on it, but you have custody of [the child] for the next six months.

“And the two of y’all [i.e., the parents] are going to go to court referral. You’re going to get every other weekend visitation. You’re going to get every other weekend visitation. [The father is] not to have any visitation any more than [the mother] has.

“Both of [the parents] are going to go and take drug tests on Friday before they pick up [the child]. And they’re going to sit there, and they’re going to show [the paternal grandparents] the drug test. And if they’ve failed, [the paternal grandparents] are authorized by the Court to deny them visitation.

“I’m going to be clear with both of y’all. If something ain’t changed in the next six months, y’all [i.e., the paternal grandparents] gear up. You’re getting custody. And here’s–no. And here’s the thing. Y’all [i.e., the parents] have done this to yourselves.”

If you’re interested, that’s exactly what the judge did. The court scheduled a follow-up hearing seven months later. At that hearing the court apparently didn’t get the news it wanted about the parents’ drug use. The child is now living with Dad’s parents. Mom and Dad get weekend visitation, subject to a clean drug screen the preceding Friday.

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