Comments to the 2009 Changes to Alabama Child Support

Here are the Comments issued along with the changes made in Alabama Rule of Judicial Administration 32, dealing with the calculation of Alabama Child Support. You can read the changed version of Rule 32 here.

APPENDIX B

Comment to Amendments Effective January 1, 2009

Rule 32 was amended effective January 1, 2009, to address certain issues and to make technical changes.

The first paragraph of this rule, entitled, “Preface Relating to Scope,” provides that the amended rule is effective January 1, 2009, and will apply to all new actions filed or proceedings instituted on or after that date. Any actions or proceedings instituted before January 1, 2009, will be governed by Rule 32 as it read before that date.

Rule 32 (A) (2) , entitled “Stipulations,” was amended to delete the last sentence, which is also found in Rule 32(E).

Rule 32 (A) (3) , entitled “Modifications,” was amended by adding subsection (b), which emphasizes that under current Alabama caselaw a party seeking a modification of child support must plead and prove that a material change in circumstances has occurred since the entry of the last order of child support that is substantial and continuing.

Former subsection (b) of Rule 32 (A) (3) was moved to subsection (c). Subsections (d) and (e) were added to Rule 32 (A) (3). Subsection (d) clarifies that the mere existence of the guidelines or any periodic changes to the guidelines, including these latest changes, do not, in and of themselves, constitute proof of a material change in circumstances that is substantial and continuing to warrant the filing of a modification of child support. Subsection (e) restates that a trial court may modify a child-support obligation even when there is not a 10 percent variation between the current obligation and the guidelines when a petitioner has proven a material change in circumstances that is substantial and continuing, or it may deny a modification even when the 10 percent variation exists based on a finding that the application of the guidelines in that case would be manifestly unjust or inequitable.

In Rule 32 (B) (2) (b), the definition of “Gross Income” was amended to change the term “Aid to Families with Dependent Children,” which is no longer used, to “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.”

The Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Child-Support Guidelines and Enforcement considered the issue of allowing a deduction beyond what is provided in Rule 32 (B)(6) for a parent paying child support if that parent has other children who are not the subject of the particular child-support determination being made. After many discussions, the Advisory Committee decided not to recommend an amendment to Rule 32 (B)(6), which allows a parent paying child support to deduct from that parent’s gross income the amount of child support actually being paid by the person pursuant to a child-support order for other children or an imputed amount if the parent is legally responsible for and is actually providing child support for other children not covered by a child-support order.

The Advisory Committee also decided not to recommend an amendment to the guidelines to address the issue of subsequent children or families. Although no deduction may be made for children born or adopted after an initial award of support unless the deduction is made pursuant to another order of support or as otherwise provided in this rule, a court may consider evidence of support provided by a party for after­born or adopted children offered in an attempt to rebut the presumptions in the guidelines. SeeLoggins v. Houk, 595 So. 2d 488 (Ala. Civ. App. 1991). A decision regarding an issue raised concerning subsequent children or families is to be made on a case-by-case basis and is left to the sound discretion of the trial court, to be based on findings made at or after trial or upon a fair written agreement of the parties. If a deduction for subsequent children or families results in a support award that deviates from the award that would result from application of the guidelines, the trial court’s order, or the written agreement of the parties, must specify and explain the reason for the deviation.

In Rule 32 (B) (8), the definition of “Child-Care Costs” was amended to delete reference to registers receiving copies of the Department of Human Resources’ schedule of child-care­cost guidelines because there are no longer any registers.

Rule 32 (G) was amended to provide that the Advisory Committee on Child-Support Guidelines and Enforcement appointed by the Supreme Court, instead of the administrative director of courts, shall, at least once every four years, review the child-support guidelines and the schedule of basic child-support obligations to ensure that their application results in appropriate child-support determinations. Language was also added to provide that any recommendations concerning the child-support guidelines and/ or the schedule of basic child-support obligations shall be reduced to writing and sent by the chairman of the Committee to the clerk of the Supreme Court for review by the Supreme Court. Any proposed changes to the child-support guidelines and/or the schedule of basic child-support obligations that are approved by the Supreme Court shall be sent by the clerk of the Supreme Court to the administrative director of courts for distribution to the trial courts.

The original schedule of basic child-support obligations was developed through research sponsored by the National Center for State Courts. The revised schedule of basic child­support obligations was updated and is based on the latest extensive economic research on the cost of supporting children at various income levels. Specifically, the revised schedule of basic child-support obligations is based on estimates of child-rearing expenditures that were developed applying the Rothbarth methodology to 1998-2004 expenditures data and updated to 2007 price levels. The revised schedule of basic child-support obligations is also based on gross income and has been adjusted for Alabama’s income distribution relative to the income distribution for the United States. It also incorporates the 2007 federal and State of Alabama personal income-tax withholding formulas.

Other assumptions incorporated in the revised schedule of basic child-support obligations include:

(1) Tax exemptions. The schedule of basic child-support obligations assumes that the custodial parent will take the federal and state income-tax exemptions for the children in his or her custody;

(2) Health-care costs. In respect to health-care costs, the schedule of basic child-support obligations assumes unreimbursed medical costs of $250 per child per year. These assumed costs include medical expenses not covered or reimbursed by health insurance, Medicaid, or All Kids, or insurance from another public entity up to $250 per child per year;

(3) Visitation. The schedule of basic child-support obligations is premised on the assumption that the noncustodial parent will exercise customary visitation rights, including summer visitation. Any abatement of child support because of extraordinary visitation should be based on visitation in excess of customary visitation; and

(4) Self-support reserve. The schedule of basic child­support obligations incorporates a self-support reserve of $851 per month. It is based on the 2007 federal poverty guidelines for one person but is also realigned to consider Alabama incomes in the same manner as the revised schedule. The adjustment is incorporated into the schedule for combined gross incomes below: $1,100 for one child; $1,350 for two children; $1,550 for three children; $1,700 for four children; $1,900 for five children; and $2,100 for six children. The evidence on child-rearing expenditures indicates a higher amount is expended on children below these income levels than what is shown in the schedule of basic child-support obligations.

The entire revised schedule of basic child-support obligations includes combined gross incomes ranging from $0 to $20,000 a month. Rule 32 (C) (1) provides that the court may use its discretion in determining child support when the combined adjusted gross income is below the lowermost levels or above the uppermost levels of the schedule. To further the consistency of awards, a court may wish to issue an order establishing minimum child-support obligations for combined adjusted gross incomes of less than $800. When the combined adjusted gross income exceeds the uppermost limit of the schedule, the amount of child support should not be extrapolated from the figures given in the schedule, but should be left to the discretion of the court.

The revised schedule of basic child-support obligations assumes that each child will have $250 in unreimbursed medical expenses each year up to $750 for three children per year and $75 per each additional child thereafter. This includes ordinary medical expenditures such as over-the-counter medicines, Band-Aids, and co-pays for well visits. In providing for the payment of deductibles and/or other noncovered medical expenses by the parties, it should be assumed that those expenses are in excess of this amount.

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