One of the most contested aspects of a divorce proceeding is figuring the amount of child support owed to the custodial parent. Alabama law requires filing certain affidavits with the court explaining each parent’s income level and those affidavits serve as guidelines in calculating child support amount.
While these guidelines exist to give the custodial parent an idea of how much the court agrees they are owed each month, the parents are free to come up with their own arrangements regarding the amount and incorporate it into the divorce settlement.
Complications tend to arise when people enter into their own agreements because child support awards may only be modified when there is proof of materially changed circumstances. For instance, if the parent that pays child support has a significant decrease in salary, they may request a modification.
A recently decided case in Alabama illustrates some of the potential pitfalls of entering into agreements outside of the child support guidelines. In Bradley v. Murphy, the parents had independently agreed to an amount of child support that exceeded the guidelines. Later, the father noticed charges for health insurance were being added to rather than subtracted from the amount of child support he paid each month and he sought a modification.
The father in this case sought to modify both the amount of the payment each month and to correct the additional charges. The trial court did not modify the obligation the father owed each month, but decided to give him a credit for the calculation error and reduce his payments each month until the credit amount was satisfied.
The appellate court explained that clerical errors in judgments may be corrected by the court so long as they are corrected to reflect the true intentions of the parties. The judgments cannot be corrected to make the judgment say anything other than what was originally pronounced. In this case, that means that the father is still required to pay the original amount decided upon in the settlement agreement.
The court has a policy that when terms of a settlement are clear and unambiguous, as they were in this case, the agreement may not be changed later based on evidence that comes to light that contradicts the original terms. Based on this reasoning, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s judgment in regards to giving the father the credit for the previously paid obligations.
If the father were to receive a credit for the earlier payments, it would not be merely fixing a clerical error, rather it would be changing the terms of the settlement. Furthermore, there was no evidence indicating the father had an inability to pay the amount agreed upon meaning there was no material change of circumstance.
This case illustrates the importance of understanding and executing settlement agreements. To assure the best outcome for both you and your family, hire an attorney that can represent your interests in negotiating the best terms of settlement for you.
Should you be facing a divorce from your spouse, contact Birmingham Divorce attorney Joseph A. Ingram of Ingram Law LLC at (205) 335-2640.Ingram Law LLC has the experience and the family law qualifications to put you at the best advantage possible