Termination of Parental Rights

Can the state of Alabama terminate a father’s parental rights in a child even though that father doesn’t have minimum contacts with the state? The answer of the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals is yes it can. In J.D. v. Tuscaloosa County Department of Human Resources, Case Nos. 2030911, 2030912 (Ala. Civ. App. June 30, 2005), the Tuscaloosa Juvenile Court had terminated the parental rights of the mother and putative (supposed) father. Both the mother and the putative father appealed.

The Court of Appeals had no trouble dispensing with the mother’s appeal. “The evidence established that the mother continued to use cocaine and crack cocaine on a daily basis and continued to use marijuana several times a week despite receiving treatment for substance abuse. She did not demonstrate that she could abstain from using illegal drugs. Therefore, we cannot hold that the juvenile court’s finding that there was no viable alternative to terminating the mother’s parental rights was so unsupported by the evidence that it was plainly and palpably wrong.”

The putative father’s argument, however, as well as the issues it presented, were more novel. The putative father argued that he did not have minimum contacts with the state of Alabama, and therefore that Alabama lacked personal jurisdiction over him.

The Court of Appeals cited what it called a “status exception” to the normal requirement of minimum contacts for personal jurisdiction. The idea of a status exception is that there are some issues involving the status of a person who resides in a state that need to be resolved. And to the extent that determining that status affects the rights of persons who are not resident (and who don’t have minimum contacts with that state), there must be an exception to the requirement of minimum contacts.

The Court of Appeals ruled that the status exception extends to parental termination cases, because (a) parental termination proceedings involve the determination of a child’s status vis-a-vis its parents; (b) parental termination is analagous to the court’s determination of the marriage relationship between a husband and wife; and (c) most jurisdictions confronting this issue have made a similar determination, that the status exception extends to termination of parental rights in a child.

Having determined that the status exception applies, the Appeals Court ruled that the father’s lack of minimum contacts with Alabama was irrelevant. However, it recognized that this did not necessarily mean the father was subject to personal jurisdiction in Alabama. The Court of Appeals said that it must go on to determine whether the juvenile court’s assertion of personal jurisdiction over the father otherwise met the due-process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Court of Appeals determined that the assertion of jurisdiction did comply with the Fourteenth Amendment, because (a) the state’s interests are paramount to those of any other state, because the children reside in the state and are receiving support from the state; and (b) the assertion of jurisdiction does not offend “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice,” because the putative father helped the mother move to this state, voluntarily chose not to exercise his parental rights, and received actual notice of all the proceedings (along with the right and ability to appear and present evidence).

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