(a) Appointment of Referees. The Administrative Director of Courts may authorize one or more referee positions in any judicial circuit on either a full-time or a part-time basis upon submission of a written request by the presiding juvenile court judge and upon consideration of funding and the juvenile and child-support caseload in the circuit. Once the Administrative Director of Courts approves the request, the presiding judge of the juvenile court may appoint an attorney the judge believes to be qualified to fill the position, subject to the approval of the Administrative Director of Courts. The amount to be paid the referee and the manner of payment shall be determined by the Administrative Director of Courts.
(b) Cases Handled by Referees. The presiding judge of the juvenile court may direct that the referee handle various kinds of juvenile and child-support cases unless any of the following occurs:
(1) The referee has agreed to hear certain juvenile and child-support cases pursuant to an agreement or a contract.
(2) The hearing in a particular case is one to determine whether the case will be transferred for criminal prosecution.
(3) The hearing involves the termination of parental rights as defined in subdivision (10) of Section 12-15-301.
(4) A party objects to a hearing being held by a referee.
(c) Duties of Referees. Referees shall perform one or more of the following duties in juvenile and child-support cases:
(1) Take testimony in hearings.
(2) Evaluate evidence and make findings of fact and recommendations to determine paternity and to establish and enforce child-support orders.
(3) Accept voluntary acknowledgments of child-support liability or paternity and stipulated agreements setting the amount of child support to be paid.
(4) Prepare a default order upon a showing that process has been served on the defendant and that the defendant failed to respond to service in accordance with the Alabama Rules of Juvenile Procedure or the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure.
(5) Order genetic tests in contested paternity cases without the necessity of obtaining an order from a judge.
(6) Enter orders relating to the administration of the docket of the juvenile court to which the referee is assigned without the necessity of obtaining a signature of a judge.
(7) All other duties as authorized by law or rule.
(d) Duty to Inform Parties of Right to Object to Referee. Before conducting a hearing in a juvenile or child-support case, the referee shall inform all of the parties that the referee is not a judge and that the hearing may be conducted before a judge if any party objects to the hearing being held by the referee.
(e) Written Findings and Recommendations of the Referee.
(1) After conducting a hearing in a juvenile or child-support case, if the referee has made a decision at the conclusion of the hearing, the referee shall immediately reduce his or her findings and recommendations to writing and then transmit those written findings and recommendations to the clerk of the juvenile court for filing and to a judge with authority over juvenile matters for his or her signature pursuant to subsection (g). If the parties are present at the hearing, copies of the written findings and recommendations shall be given to the parties in open court. The written findings and recommendations shall contain a notice that any party has a right to request a rehearing within 14 days of the date those findings and recommendations were filed in the office of the clerk of juvenile court.
(2) If the referee has not made a decision on the matter at the conclusion of the hearing or if the parties are not present in open court, the referee, within three business days of making his or her decision, shall transmit his or her written findings and recommendations to the clerk of the juvenile court for filing and to a judge with authority over juvenile matters for his or her signature pursuant to subsection (g). Once the clerk files the written findings and recommendations, the clerk shall send to the parties, by first class mail, copies of the findings and recommendations containing a notice informing them that they have the right to request a rehearing within 14 days of the date the findings and recommendations were filed in the office of the clerk of the juvenile court.
(3) Notice to a party represented by counsel shall be given to counsel rather than the party and the notice shall be sufficient as notice to the party unless the juvenile court orders otherwise.
(f) Rehearing Before the Juvenile Court. A rehearing before a judge with authority over juvenile court matters concerning the matter heard by the referee shall be scheduled if any party files a written request therefor within the time frames provided in subsection (e). Once a rehearing is scheduled, the parties shall be notified of the date, time, and the place of the rehearing. Notice to a party represented by counsel shall be given to counsel, and this notice shall be sufficient unless the juvenile court orders otherwise. When an adequate record has been made in the proceeding before the referee, the judge shall review the record before rehearing and may admit new evidence at the rehearing. If the record is not adequate, the rehearing shall be de novo.
(g) Ratification by the Judge. The findings and recommendations of the referee shall become the order of the juvenile court when ratified by the original signature of a judge with authority over juvenile matters.
(h) Matters Before the Referee Needing Immediate Action. If a matter before a referee requires immediate action, the referee shall state in his or her written findings and recommendations why the recommendations should be effective immediately. These matters for immediate action may include, but are not limited to, matters of contempt, the physical safety of the child, or the safety of others, or when the personal liberty of the child may be infringed. In such event, the written recommendations of the referee shall be effective and binding, upon the consent of the parties, for a period not exceeding 72 hours. In the event the parties do not consent to immediate action, the recommendations shall be reviewed immediately by any judge with authority over juvenile matters, who may order an appropriate temporary order based on the findings and recommendations, which order will be effective for a period not exceeding 72 hours. In any event, the findings and recommendations of the referee and any temporary orders in a matter needing immediate attention shall be reviewed by a judge with authority over juvenile matters within 72 hours after being made. Upon such review, the judge shall rescind, modify, or continue the order in effect and conduct such further proceedings as may be permitted under subsection (f).