A.M. v. R.S., 2210428

CourtAlabama Court of Civil Appeals
Writing for the CourtEDWARDS, JUDGE
PartiesA.M. v. R.S. and J.S.
Docket Number2210428
Decision Date23 September 2022

A.M.
v.
R.S. and J.S.

No. 2210428

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

September 23, 2022


Appeal from Geneva Juvenile Court (JU-21-125.01)

EDWARDS, JUDGE

In July 2021, R.S. and J.S. ("the paternal grandparents") filed a petition in the Geneva Juvenile Court ("the juvenile court") seeking to terminate the parental rights of A.M. ("the mother") and D.R.R. ("the

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father") to G.R. ("the child"). After a trial at which the father consented to the termination of his parental rights, the juvenile court entered a judgment on February 10, 2022, terminating the rights of both the mother and the father to the child. The mother filed a timely postjudgment motion and a notice of appeal on February 13, 2022. Her notice of appeal was held in abeyance pursuant to Rule 4(a)(5), Ala. R. App. P.[1] The juvenile court denied the mother's postjudgment motion on February 16, 2022, and the mother's notice of appeal became effective on that date. Id.

The evidence at trial established that the child was born on August 31, 2017, and that the Coffee County Department of Human Resources ("DHR") became involved with the mother at the time of the child's birth

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because of the mother's drug use. The mother testified that she had initially agreed to a safety plan proposed by DHR but that, because she did not comply with that plan, DHR had removed the child from the mother's custody and, in early October 2017, had placed the child with the paternal grandparents. According to J.S. ("the paternal grandmother"), the Coffee Juvenile Court entered a judgment awarding custody of the child to her and R.S. ("the paternal grandfather") in 2018 ("the 2018 custody judgment"). The mother and the father both testified that the 2018 custody judgment did not award the mother specific visitation with the child. The mother said that the 2018 custody judgment permitted the paternal grandparents to exercise their discretion regarding the mother's contact with the child.

The mother and the paternal grandmother testified that the mother had sought a specific order granting her the right to visitation in late 2019; we presume that action was brought in the Coffee Juvenile Court. Both the mother and the paternal grandmother agreed that the court entered a judgment awarding the mother supervised visitation on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

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("the visitation judgment"). According to the mother, the visitation judgment adopted an agreement of the parties; she said that the paternal grandmother had agreed to the mother's having only supervised visitation. Both the mother and the paternal grandmother indicated that the location of the mother's visits alternated between the mother's house and the paternal grandparents' house and that the mother's uncle supervised the visits held at the mother's house. The mother and the paternal grandmother testified that the mother had exercised that visitation fairly regularly, although the paternal grandmother testified that the mother had missed a few visitations when the mother had been ill or around the time that the mother's mother had died. The mother also admitted to having been late to a visit after having overslept one weekend and to having missed another visit because, she said, she had been attacked by a friend that she had let spend the night at her house. The paternal grandmother testified that the mother did not contact her or the child during the periods between her visits and that the mother did not ask about the child's progress at "school."

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Regarding the visits themselves, the mother testified that they went well. She said that the child referred to her as "momma" but that he also sometimes called the paternal grandmother "momma." The paternal grandmother testified that the child had sometimes become nervous and tearful before the visits held at the mother's house and that the paternal grandmother had had to reassure him that she would return to pick him up at the conclusion of the visits. However, the paternal grandmother admitted that the child enjoyed the visits with the mother, although the paternal grandmother described them as "play dates" and indicated that the child would enjoy a play date with anyone.

The mother testified that she lives in a house provided to her by her grandfather and that she does not pay rent. She also testified that she had been gifted an automobile by her mother. The mother said that her monthly expenses included $101 for electricity, $40 for natural gas, $45 for water, $53 for cellular-telephone service, $75 for automobile insurance, and $150 for gasoline. She said that she receives $469 per month in food stamps for herself and her 2-year-old daughter, A.M.N. ("the daughter"). Although she testified that the daughter had attended

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a day care previously, the mother said that, at the time of the trial, she relied on friends to watch the daughter while she worked.

The mother, who was 35 years old at the time of the trial, said that she had used illegal drugs since she was around 18 years old until approximately a year before she gave birth to the daughter, or 3 years before the date of the trial. She admitted that she had not attended a drug-treatment program, but, she said, she had become involved in a church. When asked, she testified that DHR had not been involved with her and the daughter and that she was rearing the daughter on her own because she did not know who had fathered the daughter.

The mother said that she had been ordered to pay $401 per month to the paternal grandparents in child support in the 2018 custody judgment. She admitted that she had failed to regularly pay child support to the paternal grandparents but said that she was doing the best that she could. The paternal grandmother testified that the mother had paid less than $500 in child support in 2020 and 2021 and had accumulated an arrearage of over $8,000.

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According to the mother, she was employed by a hotel at the time of the trial. She said that, although her hours varied and her employer worked with her to ensure that she could attend her visitations with the child, she typically worked approximately 40 hours per week. The mother testified that she earns approximately $800 per month but that she was not certain whether that amount was her gross or net pay. The mother further testified that she had been employed by a fast-food restaurant in 2020 but had lost that job at some point after the COVID-19 pandemic began and that she had worked for a few months for Coffee Baking Company at some point between working the fast-food job and taking the job at the hotel. However, the mother admitted that she had remained at home with the daughter during a portion of the COVID-19 pandemic and that she had been unemployed at the time the termination-of-parental-rights petition was filed in July 2021.

The paternal grandmother testified that, in her opinion, the mother had been under the influence of drugs during a visit in July 2021. According to the paternal grandmother, during that visitation, the mother's "eyes were not right. Her voice was not right. She was

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'staggery.' She even fell." The mother was not recalled to testify regarding the paternal grandmother's allegation, but she had already testified that she no longer used illegal substances. No witness testified that the mother had been tested for drugs, and the record does not contain any drug-test results.

The mother admitted that the house in which she lives, which has three bedrooms and one bathroom, "needs a lot of remodeling." She said that the house had electricity but that she had had to use extension cords at times; she stated specifically that she had had to use an extension cord to provide for lighting at the front door. According to the mother, the house had had a "black mold" issue; however, when questioned further, the mother admitted that the house had had mold that was visibly black but that she had not had the mold tested. The mother said that she had informed the paternal grandmother of the issue and had exercised her visits at the paternal grandparents' house to prevent the child from being exposed to the mold, which, the mother said, had made her and the daughter sick. According to the mother, the mold had largely been eradicated by her application of a vinegar and water solution. The

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mother said that she had also been using an air purifier. The paternal grandmother also testified that the...

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