Mdc v. Petitioner, 1071625.

CourtSupreme Court of Alabama
Writing for the CourtBOLIN
Citation39 So.3d 1117
PartiesEx parte M.D.C.(In re M.D.C.v.K.D.).
Decision Date30 September 2009
Docket Number1071625.

39 So.3d 1117

Ex parte M.D.C.
(In re M.D.C.
v.
K.D.).

1071625.

Supreme Court of Alabama.

Sept. 30, 2009.


39 So.3d 1118

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

39 So.3d 1119
Daniel S. Campbell, Fort Payne, for petitioner.

Jamie Logan, Guntersville, for respondent.

BOLIN, Justice.

M.D.C. (“the mother”) petitioned this Court for a writ of certiorari after the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court's judgment holding that the obligation of K.D. (“the father”) to pay child support was automatically extinguished when his parental rights were terminated. We granted certiorari review to consider a material question of first impression for this Court: whether the Alabama Child Protection Act, § 26-18-1 et seq., Ala.Code 1975 (“CPA”),1 which governs the termination of parental rights, also terminates a parent's responsibility to pay child support.

Facts and Procedural History

Two children were born of the parties' marriage. The mother had a child from a previous marriage. The parties divorced in February 2003. In August 2003, the father pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree rape. He was sentenced to prison and has since been released. The victim was the mother's minor child from the previous marriage. The divorce judgment awarded custody of the parties' two children to the mother and ordered the father to pay $540 per month in child support. In October 2005, a juvenile court granted the mother's petition seeking to terminate the father's parental rights to their two minor children.

On January 4, 2007, the State, on behalf of the mother, filed a petition to require the father to show cause why he should not be held in contempt for his alleged failure to pay his child-support obligation. The father answered, denying the material allegations in the petition. After a hearing, the trial court entered a judgment on May 6, 2007, finding the father in arrears in the amount of $16,730 in child support plus $486 in interest. The father and the State filed motions to alter, amend, or vacate the judgment or, in the alternative, for a new trial.

Pursuant to Rule 59.1, Ala. R. Civ. P., the parties agreed to extend the time for the trial court to rule on the parties' postjudgment motions. The trial court granted both parties' requests for a new trial. The case was submitted to the trial court on the pleadings, the previously taken testimony, and certain stipulations by the parties. On January 8, 2008, the trial court entered an order finding that the father's obligation to pay child support was extinguished when his parental rights were terminated in October 2005. The mother appealed.

A majority of the Court of Civil Appeals noted that the CPA, which governed the

39 So.3d 1120
termination of parental rights in 2005, does not address the issue of a parent's obligation to pay child support after his or her parental rights are terminated M.D.C. v. K.D., 39 So.3d 1105 (Ala.Civ.App.2008). The Court of Civil Appeals noted that this case presents an issue of first impression. However, that court cited several decisions in which it says appellate courts have indicated that a parent is no longer obligated to pay child support after the parent's parental rights have been terminated. The Court of Civil Appeals stated that a majority of states addressing the issue have held that the termination of parental rights extinguishes a parent's duty to support the child. The court held that the purpose of Alabama's juvenile laws, particularly in parental-termination cases, is to provide children with stability and permanency and that to further the goal of permanently placing a child, which may include adoption after the termination of parental rights, the parental relationship with the child must be totally severed after parental rights are terminated.
Standard of Review

“On certiorari review, this Court accords no presumption of correctness to the legal conclusions of the intermediate appellate court. Therefore, we must apply de novo the standard of review that was applicable in the Court of Civil Appeals.” Ex parte Toyota Motor Corp., 684 So.2d 132, 135 (Ala.1996).

Analysis

Section 26-18-7(a), Ala.Code 1975 (now § 12-15-319), of the CPA provides as follows:

“If the court finds from clear and convincing evidence, competent, material, and relevant in nature, that the parents of a child are unable or unwilling to discharge their responsibilities to and for the child, or that the conduct or condition of the parents is such as to render them unable to properly care for the child and that such conduct or condition is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, it may terminate the parental rights of the parents.”

It is clear from the statute that the juvenile court may terminate a parent's parental rights if that parent is unwilling or unable to discharge his or her “responsibilities to and for the child.” Nothing in the CPA addresses whether a parent's duty to pay child support is terminated when his or her parental rights are terminated.

In a well written dissent to the Court of Civil Appeals' opinion, Judge Moore opined that a parent's obligation to pay child support is not extinguished under the CPA when the parent's parental rights are terminated. After considering the record and the main opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals, we find the dissenting opinion accurately interprets the law on this subject, and we adopt its reasoning.

As Judge Moore noted, the CPA does not define “parental rights,” nor does it define “responsibilities to and for the child.” 39 So.3d at 1120. The Alabama Juvenile Justice Act (“the AJJA”), § 12-15-1 et seq., Ala.Code 1975, 2 clarifies the meaning of those terms and there are

39 So.3d 1121
cases recognizing the interplay between the CPA and AJJA. See e.g., Ex parte Beasley, 564 So.2d 950 (Ala.1990); Clemons v. Alabama Dep't of Pensions & Security, 474 So.2d 1143 (Ala.Civ.App.1985). Additionally, the legislature merged the CPA and AJAA, effective January 1, 2009. See Act No. 2008-277, Ala. Acts 2008. In his dissenting opinion, Judge Moore stated:
“Section 12-15-1(17) [now § 12-15-102(16) ], Ala.Code 1975, defines ‘legal custody’ as

“ ‘[a] legal status created by court order which vests in a custodian the right to have physical custody of the child and to determine where and with whom the child shall live within the state and the right and duty to protect, train, and discipline the child and to provide the child with food, shelter, clothing, education, and ordinary medical care, all subject to the powers, rights, duties, and responsibilities of the guardian of the person of the child and subject to any residual parental rights and responsibilities ....’

“The AJJA then provides that ‘residual parental rights and responsibilities' include:
“ ‘[t]hose rights and responsibilities remaining with the parent after the transfer of legal custody or guardianship of the person, including, but not necessarily limited to, the right of visitation, the right to consent to adoption, the right to determine religious affiliation, and the responsibility for support.’
“§ 12-15-1(24) [now § 12-15-102(23) ], Ala.Code 1975. Our supreme court has stated that related statutes should, when possible, be construed in pari materia, Archer Daniels Midland Co. v. Seven Up Bottling Co. of Jasper, Inc., 746 So.2d 966, 988 (Ala.1999), and that legislative definitions are binding on the court. See McWhorter v. State Bd. of Registration for Prof'l Eng'rs & Land Surveyors, 359 So.2d 769, 773 (Ala.1978).
“Reading the statutory definitions of parental rights and responsibilities found in § 12-15-1 into § 26-18-7 [now § 12-15-319, as amended] reveals the legislature's intent:
“ ‘If the court finds from clear and convincing evidence, competent, material, and relevant in nature, that the parents of a child are unable or unwilling to discharge their [parental duties, including the duties to protect, to educate, to care for, to provide for, to maintain, and to support the child], or that the conduct or condition of the parents is such as to render them unable to properly care for the child and that such conduct or condition is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, it may terminate the [parents' rights, including the rights to custody, to visitation, to control the child's education, training, discipline, and religious affiliation, and to consent to adoption].’
“Construing the two statutes together, if a juvenile court finds clear and convincing evidence indicating that a parent is unable to discharge his or her parental responsibilities, the juvenile court may on that basis terminate the rights of the parent to the child,3 but not the parent's responsibility to provide child support.4
_________________
3 The new juvenile code, which takes effect on January 1, 2009, defines ‘termination of parental rights' as ‘[a] severance of all rights of a parent to a child.’ Ala. Acts 2008, Act No. 2008-277, § 16. This definition clarifies the legislative intent that a judgment terminating parental rights severs the rights of the parent to the child but does not sever
39 So.3d 1122
the rights of the child to the parent, which includes the right to support. See Ex parte Tabor, 840 So.2d 115, 120 (Ala.2002), quoting with approval Willis v. Levesque, 402 So.2d 1003, 1004 (Ala.Civ.App.1981) (recognizing that children have an inherent right to child support from parents). When a legislature amends a statute to define a previously undefined term, it must be considered that the legislature has attempted to clarify any ambiguity in that term and the court should take notice of that action when determining the legislative intent. See Alfa Mut. Ins. Co. v. City of Mobile, 981 So.2d 371, 383 (Ala.2007).
4 I do not mean to be understood as saying that a juvenile court may never terminate child support. I am merely saying that § 26-18-7 does not authorize a juvenile court to terminate child support based solely on clear and convincing evidence supporting grounds for
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39 practice notes
  • Ex Parte E.R.G. And D.W.G., 1090883
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • June 10, 2011
    ...child is fundamental. However, that right is not absolute. As Justice Bolin, writing for the Court, so aptly stated in Ex parte M.D.C., 39 So. 3d 1117, 1128 (Ala. 2009):"A parent has a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody, and management of his or her child. Santosky v. Kramer,......
  • E.H.G.  v. E.R.G. (Ex parte E.R.G.), 1090883.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • June 10, 2011
    ...child is fundamental. However, that right is not absolute. As Justice Bolin, writing for the Court, so aptly stated in Ex parte M.D.C., 39 So.3d 1117, 1128 (Ala.2009): “A parent has a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody, and management of his or her child. Santosky v. Kramer, ......
  • Magee v. Boyd, 1130987, 1131020, 1131021.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • March 2, 2015
    ...decision, judicial dictum is entitled to much greater weight than the other, and should not be lightly disregarded.” ’ ”Ex parte M.D.C., 39 So.3d 1117, 1141 (Ala.2009) (Murdock, J., dissenting) (quoting Stark v. Watson, 359 P.2d 191, 196 (Okla.1961), quoting in turn Crescent Ring Co. v. Tra......
  • Magee v. Boyd, 1130987
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • March 2, 2015
    ...a decision, judicial dictum is entitled to much greater weight than the other, and should not be lightly disregarded."'" Ex parte M.D.C., 39 So. 3d 1117, 1141 (Ala. 2009) (Murdock, J., dissenting)(quoting Stark v. Watson, 395 P.2d 191, 196 (Okla. 1961), quoting in turn Crescent Ring Co. v. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
39 cases
  • Ex Parte E.R.G. And D.W.G., 1090883
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • June 10, 2011
    ...child is fundamental. However, that right is not absolute. As Justice Bolin, writing for the Court, so aptly stated in Ex parte M.D.C., 39 So. 3d 1117, 1128 (Ala. 2009):"A parent has a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody, and management of his or her child. Santosky v. Kramer,......
  • E.H.G.  v. E.R.G. (Ex parte E.R.G.), 1090883.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • June 10, 2011
    ...child is fundamental. However, that right is not absolute. As Justice Bolin, writing for the Court, so aptly stated in Ex parte M.D.C., 39 So.3d 1117, 1128 (Ala.2009): “A parent has a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody, and management of his or her child. Santosky v. Kramer, ......
  • Magee v. Boyd, 1130987, 1131020, 1131021.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • March 2, 2015
    ...decision, judicial dictum is entitled to much greater weight than the other, and should not be lightly disregarded.” ’ ”Ex parte M.D.C., 39 So.3d 1117, 1141 (Ala.2009) (Murdock, J., dissenting) (quoting Stark v. Watson, 359 P.2d 191, 196 (Okla.1961), quoting in turn Crescent Ring Co. v. Tra......
  • Magee v. Boyd, 1130987
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • March 2, 2015
    ...a decision, judicial dictum is entitled to much greater weight than the other, and should not be lightly disregarded."'" Ex parte M.D.C., 39 So. 3d 1117, 1141 (Ala. 2009) (Murdock, J., dissenting)(quoting Stark v. Watson, 395 P.2d 191, 196 (Okla. 1961), quoting in turn Crescent Ring Co. v. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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