When you think of a juvenile court, you may think of a place for wayward teens and other youthful offenders who are too young to be judged by a “regular” court. However, juvenile courts sometimes may hear other cases, such as those pertaining to paternity and child support.
Recently, in Montgomery County, in Moore v. Griffin, the Court had to determine whether the juvenile court or circuit court was the proper court to hear a father’s custody action. In 2007, the child was born and shortly after, the father identified himself on the birth certificate as the biological father. In September 2015, in an action brought by the State of Alabama, on behalf of the mother, the juvenile court determined that the father owed a duty of child support to the child.
A few months later, in December 2015, the father filed an action in circuit court seeking custody of the child, based on alleged abuse the child was suffering in the mother’s home. The mother counterclaimed for custody but then filed a motion to dismiss all claims based on a lack of jurisdiction. The mother argued that because the juvenile court awarded her child support, that was equivalent to a determination of custody. The trial court ruled in favor of the mother. The father appealed.
On appeal, the mother argued both that the father failed to state a valid claim and that the Court lacked jurisdiction. The Court disagreed with the validity of claim argument but did agree with her jurisdiction argument. The Court pointed out that juvenile courts retain original jurisdiction over proceedings to establish, modify, or enforce support, visitation or custody matters. When the juvenile court ordered the payment of child support in September 2015, it made an implied determination of custody. The Court then wrote that instead of dismissing the action, as it did based on the mother’s motion, the circuit court should have transferred it to the juvenile court to further determine the custody issues. The Court of Civil Appeals vacated (meaning it held void) the circuit court’s judgment and ordered that the circuit court transfer the case back to the juvenile court.
The main takeaway here is that if a juvenile court makes the original decision regarding child support, paternity, or custody, the case may only continue in juvenile court from then on out. Even in situations like Moore where the custody decision was implied, that is enough to keep the case out of circuit court and within the juvenile court system.
It is important to seek an experienced child custody attorney who understands the realities of Alabama custody law. If you need a child custody lawyer, contact INGRAM LAW LLC at 205-438-6666 for help with your case.