For the many families that suffer through divorce proceedings each year, they may think the worst is behind them when a final decree of divorce is entered. However, such decrees and orders are based on facts presented to the judge at that particular time and years later, circumstances could change requiring a modification of the original orders.
Unfortunately, this means cases can seem to linger in courts indefinitely. Walker v. Lanier, recently decided in Alabama’s Court of Civil Appeals, illustrates both the longevity of child support modifications in the court system and the need for precision in filing documents to properly effectuate such modifications.
In Walker, after a final divorce was entered in 2008, multiple modification motions were filed that were eventually consolidated into two cases: a child support modification and a custody modification that the trial court heard together. The original order gave the father sole physical custody of the children with an agreement the mother would not have to pay child support because she was only employed part-time at the time of the original order. After hearings, the trial court entered judgments changing the original orders so that the parents had joint custody and neither had to pay child support.
The father appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court’s judgments. Complicating matters is the fact that child support is contingent on custody arrangements, meaning child support cannot be figured until custody is settled.
In 2015, the trial court again granted sole physical custody of the children to their father and their mother did not appeal. With custody determined, the father sought an order from the appellate court directing the trial court to enter a judgment in the child support case.
The trial court entered a judgment in the child support case requiring the mother to pay $507 a month in child support but did not grant the father’s request to make the support retroactive. Again, the father appealed.
The case finally concluded in 2016, after 8 years of contentious litigation, with the appellate court again reversing the trial court’s decisions. The Court of Civil Appeals notes that ultimately the trial court has discretion in determining whether to make support retroactive.
The reversal does not automatically require the trial court to order retroactive support to the father, rather they are asking the trial court to reconsider their determination in light of the undisputed evidence the mother now has full time employment. The Court of Civil Appeals also stated that there were no correctly completed Child Support Guidelines ever filed, making it difficult to understand how the trial court reached the $507 amount.
Above all, this case demonstrates how long a divorce can be. Each motion requires meticulous care to ensure speedy resolutions that do not require costly appeals. The best way to protect your interests in a domestic case is to hire an experienced attorney who knows the intricacies of the family court system.
If you are seeking a divorce lawyer, Please contact Ingram Law LLC or Joseph A. Ingram at (205) 656-0044.