“One Day Late” – a Heartbreaking Adoption Case Highlights Complex, Ambiguous Filing Deadlines

In adoption, the filing deadline is 14 days, except when it’s not. Sometimes it’s 42 days, but only on certain issues when your adoption lawyer files certain pleadings with the Court. Sometimes you can get an extension on a filing deadline. Sometimes you can’t. Oddly enough, if you have more time than you think, that can be your downfall.

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If that makes about as much sense to you as a screen door on a submarine, then you’re not alone. The law is complex and the stakes couldn’t be higher; your parental rights, all of them…forever…depend on it. It just makes it that much more important that when it comes to your family, your children, and your adoption case, you work with professionals who help their clients navigate complex issues like these on a daily basis.

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In J.A. f/k/a J.A.H. v. C.G.H. and M.C.H., [Ms. CL-2022-0927, Mar. 3, 2023] ___ So. 3d ___, ___ (Ala. Civ. App. 2023), the Court of Civil Appeals dismissed a biological Mother’s appeal from a trial court order granting the adoption of her Child because the appeal was filed one day late. That’s not the worst of it, however, because the Mother had a court order that she and the trial court both thought granted the Mother an extension to file her appeal on the day she filed it. What gives? Well, there are different deadlines for different issues. Sometimes the Adoption code spells something out and other times the correct deadline must be extrapolated from the Rules of Civil Procedure, which don’t normally apply to Adoptions but sometimes do. As I said, complex.

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Under normal circumstances, there is a 14-day deadline to appeal a trial court’s final decision to grant an adoption case. See § 26-10A-26, Ala. Code 1975. However, when a code section in the Adoption Code does not specify a procedural rule or guideline, the Rules of Civil Procedure shall apply. See § 26-10A-37, Ala. Code 1975, which, in turn, incorporates § 12-13-12, Ala. Code 1975.

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The mother’s lawyer, essentially, had filed a Motion for Relief from Judgment under Rule 60(b), Ala. R. Civ. Pro. The denial of that Motion created a different timeline than the 14 days specified by § 26-10A-26.

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To make matters worse, apparently, neither the Mother nor her lawyer got notice of the denial of the 60(b) motion and, thus, or at least they thought, the 14-day deadline to appeal had run.

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In an attempt to remedy the perceived, innocent oversight of missing an appeal deadline without notice, the Mother’s lawyer requested an extension of the time to appeal under Rule 77, Ala. R. Civ. Pro. The trial court granted this motion and the deadline was set to August 12, 2022.

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But here’s the kicker, the 14-day, § 26-10A-26 deadline only applies to the final decree of adoption, NOT to the denial of a 60(b) motion. Therefore, when the Mother got her extension it was still within her appellate deadline. What does that matter? They erred on the side of caution, right? Welp, here’s the sad conclusion of this sad, procedural saga.

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“[A] litigant’s miscalculation of the last day for filing a notice of appeal, no matter how innocent or understandable, is not the kind of neglect excused under Rule 77(d),” and, therefore, the probate court “was without the power to grant … an extension of time to file [the] notice of appeal.” Greystone Close v. Fidelity & Guar. Ins. Co., 664 So. 2d 900, 902 (Ala. 1995)

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J.A. f/k/a J.A.H. v. C.G.H. and M.C.H. at 3.

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The bottom line is this, different rules apply to different court actions which result in different deadlines in Adoption cases as well as Child Custody, Divorce, and DHR Defense cases, and, in this recent case, that difference cost a biological mother any chance to keep parental rights to her daughter.

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If you would like to learn more about how you, as a Committed Parent or Caring Relative, can stand up for yourself and be more effective in your Child Custody, Divorce, DHR or Adoption case, will you CLICK HERE to schedule your initial consultation at one of our offices?

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This article contains general information and should not be construed as legal advice for you and or your unique situation. ~SW, Foxtrot

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