The Alabama Supreme Court held in June of this year that the State’s grandparent visitation statute (§30-3-4.1, Ala. Code 1975) is unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable. As a result, there may be no viable way for grandparents to obtain visitation rights with their grandchildren through a divorce court.

In Ex parte E.R.G., [Ms. 1090883, June 10, 2011] ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. 2011) the Court found that the right of a fit parent to determine, among other things, who has contact with their child is a “fundamental” right and therefore any law interfering with that right must pass the “strict scrutiny” test to be constitutional. This test is the most stringent one a court applies to determine the validity of a statute and our Supreme Court held that it was not met in this case.

The question of how this ruling affects older cases where grandparent visitation has already been awarded was recently addressed in Burnette v. Burnett, [Ms. 2100935, December 9, 2011] ___So. 3d___ (Ala. Civ. App. 2011). The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals held that a change in substantive law, such as a finding that a statute is unconstitutional, should be applied retroactively. As a result, the court overturned a previous award of visitation to grandparents.

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A new bill reducing the age of majority from 19 to 18 will be the subject of a hearing before the Alabama House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

The most recent word I have received is that the Senate version of the bill passed the Senate. So, if the bill gets out of the Committee tomorrow, it could be on its way to passing both Houses and being signed into law.

Many family law attorneys are concerned that changing the age of majority will have significant negative effects and cause substantial litigation. For example, questions have been raised about how this proposed law would affect existing child support cases and prior Settlement Agreements regarding child support and post-minority education expenses. Additionally, there is some concern about its effect on 19 year olds being able to remain on their parents health and hospitilization insurance.

The legislature is supposed to be taking these issues into consideration, but until we see the final bill, it is hard to know what the final impact would be.

UPDATE: To date, the proposed bills to reduce the age of majority have not been passed. The age of majority remains 19 in Alabama.

Jim Jeffries | Mobile & Baldwin County Attorney

Jim currently is a member of the Alabama Supreme Court's Advisory Committee on Child Support Guidelines and Enforcement as well as a statewide committee that has been tasked with reviewing and making recommendations for possible revisions to Alabama's version of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). Jim was also recently appointed by the President of the Alabama State Bar Association to a serve on a committee whose purpose is to review and comment on Alabama legislation regarding joint custody for a proposal to the Alabama Legislature for possible changes in this legislation.

Jim has attained a Peer Review Ranking of AV from Martindale-Hubbell® - The highest an attorney can be ranked by his peers.

He continues to lecture to attorneys across the state regarding family law issues.

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