Legal Services Alabama Defends the Rights of Children

Legal Services Alabama would like to congratulate Chris McCary on his recent win at the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. Chris’s case, called G.R.B. v. L.J.B. to protect the child’s identity, centers on the issue of whether non-biological parents can terminate the parent-child relationship after acting as a parent for over a decade. In reviewing this case, the Court of Civil Appeals looked to a law passed in 2008 called the Alabama Uniform Parentage Act.

In Chris’s case, a husband in a divorce case requested that the court find he was not the father to the couple’s child after raising the child for twelve years. It was undisputed that the husband was not the father and that the couple had taken the child in because her mother (the wife’s daughter) could not care for the child. Although the wife in the divorce had legally adopted the child, the husband had not since he had signed an Affidavit of Paternity at the child’s birth (although it was agreed he was not actually the father).

In court, the parties agreed that in every meaningful way, the husband had functioned as a father to the child for over twelve years. The husband first asserted that he did not wish to care for the child only after he was removed from the couple’s home based on a Protection from Abuse order (based on his physical abuse of the wife). In court, the husband claimed that he should no longer be the child’s legal parent based on the fact that the child was aware he was not her biological father and that relieved him of any responsibility.

The Court of Appeals, in a case of first impression on this issue, held that the Uniform Parentage Act was designed to protect the rights of all parties including the child’s. The court held that to allow a father to deny parentage after 10 years would effectively deny the child one parent. The court held that a man knows a child is not his but affirmatively accepts the role of the child’s father, it would be inequitable to allow him to abandon the child at a later time.

Chris McCary, Staff Attorney in the Anniston/Gadsden Office, joined LSA in April of 2002 and practices in all of LSA’s major practice areas. Chris originally joined Legal Services as a Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) attorney and has always placed a special emphasis on providing services to domestic violence victims and their families. Great job Chris!

By Michael Forton, Director of Advocacy


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    LSA is a grantee of the Legal Services Corporation.