A Pointless Appeal?

Mom has won her appeal, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what she accomplished by filing it. The case is Powell v. Powell, Case No. 2080518 (Ala. Civ. App. September 18, 2009). Mom and Dad have one child;  the Dallas County Circuit Court divorced them and ordered Dad to pay child support of $500, not the $654 Mom wanted. Mom appealed.

Mom argued that Dad had income of $42,000, which would have produced the child support award Mom wanted. Dad argued instead that his income was $24,000 and that he had pre-existing child support obligation; applying these assumptions would have resulted in an award of $420. The trial court did neither, setting child support instead at $500. In its opinion, the appeals court points out that the trial court’s award could have resulted from the trial court’s attempting to use Dad’s income figure but applying it incompletely to the child support guidelines.

In any event, the appeals court reversed the trial court, saying that the trial court either (a) incompletely applied the child support guidelines using Dad’s contended income figure or (b) violated Rule 32(A)(ii) by deviating from the guidelines without making an express determination that the guidelines were manifestly unjust or inequitable in this case.

On the ground in Alabama. You could write this one for me, couldn’t you? It’s pretty obvious how this happened. The judge messed up and didn’t figure the guidelines right. Now Mom goes back to court with this same judge whom she has clearly embarrassed and angered by pointing out the error, to argue that the judge was wrong on the one issue the court of appeals said he or she handled just fine. The judge now gets to choose between (a) sticking with the findings of fact the judge had apparently already made, which will reduce Mom’s child support to $420 per month, or accepting Mom’s version of the facts, a version the trial court has already rejected in a decision the appeals court says was acceptable. Looks like Mom’s in for a haircut.

Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and maybe Mom hoped that her version of the facts was so compelling that the appeals court would accept it and lecture the trial court about its poor understanding of imputed and historical income. In retrospect, that sure seems like a long shot. One wonders whether Mom and her lawyer made any attempt to figure out the “end game” here before pulling the trigger on the appeal.

One comment

  1. Phillip Lackey says:

    I agree with you whole-heartedly in your view regarding this case. However, implied in your view is a condition of the judiciary which needs corrected. I know of no other profession in which errors or inadequate performance is so devoid of consequence than the judiciary. An engineer, a doctor, an architect, or an accountant who performs poorly is subject to reprimand by their employer or civil liability. A judge on the otherhand has a fixed tenure on the bench and is shielded from civil liability unless there is some act so egregious that it rises to the level of being unlawful. There is no reason why a judge cannot be held to performance standards in a manner in which other professionals are. It would be a simple matter for the state to implement pay for performance standards for judges in which annual reviews of performance in compliance with well established standards could be used to guide annual increases in compensation. The review could encompass cases overturned on appeal due to procedural errors, but not those over a question of law. Similarly, efficiency in resolving case load could be rewarded and hopefully the number of people waiting years to have a day in court reduced.

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