Dependency in Alabama (Overview)

Children and Families. Image Courtesy of Pexel Images, Public Domain.

This is a very broadly written article touching on various topics relevant to Dependency in the State of Alabama and is not intended to convey specific advice relating to Dependency. No representation is intended that the observations made herein are superior to the specific advice which may be given by a licensed attorney concerning specific questions of Dependency you may have.

Have you ever been watching one of the daytime talk shows about unruly children and though to yourself that those kids just need a steady hand and discipline in their lives or something similar? Do you know of a relative, in-law, or maybe a friend with children you think aren’t necessarily being abused, but may be suffering from neglectful or inattentive parents? Are you afraid that a child in your life, that is not your own, may grow up to live a dangerous or lawless life unless they were raised in a better home?

Are you willing to become a parent to this/these child/ren?

If you are not the actual custodial parent, or step-parent, of a child who you feel is being neglected, abused, or in anyway endangered by his/her/their parent(s) the only way you can gain custody of this/these child/ren is through a Dependency Action.

In the 29th Judicial Circuit, Talladega County, our Presiding Juvenile Judge as of the drafting of this article is the Hon. M. Ryan Rumsey. He likes to described Dependency as “when a parent or legal guardian is either unable or unwilling to exercise their parental or custodial duties to a child,” which is inherently dangerous to the child. Filing a Dependency Petition on behalf of a child does not mean you have to prove a parent “unfit;” but you do have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the children are Dependent either by the actions, inaction, or lifestyle of the custodial parent(s)/guardian(s).

By filing this petition you are asking the Court to take away the custodial rights of the natural parent(s) and vest those rights in yourself. In effect you are petitioning to become a child’s parent without adopting them and terminating the parental connection to the child’s natural parents.

Unless extenuating circumstances exist that justify a complete deprivation of contact with the child, a Juvenile Court will always provide at least minimal contact/visitation between parent and child. It is at the complete discretion to the judge however as to how frequent that contact will be based on the evidence presented at trial. This is important to keep in mind because of something called the McLendon Standard, which will be addressed by this blog in its own article.

If you are awarded custody of a child, you will become that child’s legal guardian and be vested with all legal authority concerning the child’s medical, educational, spiritual/religious, cultural, and civic matters. While your technical title will be “Guardian” or “Custodian” you will in effect be granted all parental authority over the child you’ve petitioned for.

Dependency actions should not be entered into lightly. You are subjecting yourself, your home, and your life to the scrutiny of the Courts, and must fully cooperate with the child’s Guardian ad Litem as s/he conducts his/her independent investigation in compliance with the laws of the state.

Minors are covered and protected by the Jurisdiction of the Juvenile court until they are 18 years old in most cases, but in certain Dependency cases children could be in the Juvenile Court system until they are 21 years old.

Juvenile Court Jurisdiction for Dependency, Definitions of Terms, and Dependency Proceedings Generally are covered by §12-15-301 et seq, Ala. Code of 1975.

This will be the first in a series of articles on Dependency which may go into more depth than this in order to clarify the topic subject.

The next article shall focus on Juvenile Intake Proceedings, and what needs to be included in a Dependent Petition.

If you have questions about this article or want to discuss a specific question you have concerning your parental or custodial rights, you can contact the author directly at:

timothy@aclg.law

Respectfully submitted for your consideration,

Timothy A. Wyatt, Esq.

Attorney Wyatt is a Senior Associate of the ACLG and leads our Juvenile and Family Law Division.

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