Applying Alabama Law To Foreign Child Judgments

What happens when Alabama courts confront a child support judgment from another state? Which state’s law applies to what? The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals provided some answers in C.K. v. J.M.S., Case No. 2040206 (Ala. Civ. App. December 16, 2005). In a nutshell, the issuing state’s law governs to the extent the judgment is nonmodifiable, and Alabama’s law governs to the extent it is modifiable.

The original judgment was in Mississippi, after which the mother and child moved to Louisiana. The father has resided continuously in Alabama. Pursuant to its own law the Mississippi order required the father to pay child support until age 21 and set the amount at $250 per month. 13 years later, in response to the mother’s request for an increase in child support, the father wrote the mother expressing his intention to pay $750 per month. Three years after that, however, he unilaterally decreased his monthly support to $600 and then 18 months later to $500. At no time until this case, however, did the parties attempt to change the original court order from Mississippi.

This case resulted from the mother’s 2003 filing in Mobile County Juvenile Court of a “motion” (actually a petition) for modification and rule nisi (enforcement) in Alabama. After amendment, the mother’s petition alleged that she and the father had entered into a contract increasing child support to $750 and claimed an arrearage based on this amount. The appeals court didn’t say it, but she also apparently requested funding for college after the child reached the age of 21.

The issues before the juvenile court, therefore, were (a) whether child support should stop at age 19 pursuant to Alabama law or continue until age 21 pursuant to Mississippi law; (b) if child support were to continue, how should it be calculated; (c) whether and to what extent the court should enforce the “agreement” of the parties to increase child support; and (d) whether the court should order the father to pay college expenses after the child reached age 21.

The juvenile court ruled that Mississippi law governed both the duration and the modification of child support. Applying Mississippi law, the juvenile court ruled that (a) child support would continue until age 21; (b) current child support would be set at $712.50 per month (apparently according to Mississippi guidelines); (c) the original order setting child support at $250 per month remained unmodified (giving no effect to the parties’ “agreement”); and (d) the father would pay his share of college expenses incurred before the child reached the age of 21 but that the father would have no duty to pay expenses incurred after age 21.

The appeals court stated that this was a case of first impression in Alabama. The appeals court quoted from the Official Comment to UIFSA (Uniform Interstate Family Support Act), which expressly states that the forum state (in this case Alabama) may not end a support obligation earlier than that set by the issuing state (in this case Mississippi). Accordingly, the appeals court affirmed the juvenile court on this issue.

The appeals court reversed the juvenile court, however, on the issue of the standard for modification, ruling that it should have applied Alabama law because the amount of child support is modifiable. The appeals court affirmed the juvenile court on its handling of the “agreement” question and the payment of college expenses.

The appeals court’s discussion of the “agreement” question contains an exploration of the doctrine of “invited error.” The mother argued on appeal that the juvenile court should have applied Louisiana law (where the mother lived) to the issue of the agreement. The mother’s lawyer had argued forcefully before the juvenile court, however, that Mississippi law applied to it.

The appeals court quoted from Mobile Infirmary Med. Ctr. v. Hodgen. 884 So. 2d 801, 808 (Ala. 2003):

‘A party may not predicate an argument for reversal on “invited error,” that is, “error into which he has led or lulled the trial court.”‘ Atkins v. Lee, 603 So. 2d 937, 945 (Ala. 1992) (quoting Dixie Highway Express, Inc. v. Southern Ry., 286 Ala. 646, 651, 244 So. 2d 591, 595 (1971)). ‘That doctrine [of invited error] provides that a party may not complain of error into which he has led the court.’ Ex parte King, 643 So. 2d 1364, 1366 (Ala. 1993). ‘A party cannot win a reversal on an error that party has invited the trial court to commit.’ Neal v. Neal, 856 So. 2d 766, 784 (Ala. 2002).”).

15 comments

  1. J. Harris says:

    In my perticular case I made my obligatory payments directly to the ACDD as directed by the court. But the ACDD misdirected my first child support payment due to a typo from the court placing me as the defendant who was entitled to the child support payment. This payment was sent to me in Afghanistan. I immediately returned unopened the check via registered mail to my ex and notified the appropriate manager in ACDD of the error. Just recently the court sent my employer and me a wage garnishment order for being in arrears. Even though I have proved and the court admitted I have never been in arrears they still insisted that the order remain due to my employment overseas.

    My point is this places me on a statistic that I do not rightfully belong on and it would not have occured if the court and the ACDD would have paid attention when processing the Divorce Decree placing me as the plaintiff. Is this a case that can be elevated to the next higher court?

  2. Teresa McKinnon says:

    Is Alabama’s law for age of majority strictly age nineteen, or is it after the child graduates from high school?

  3. My step daughter is currently seventeen and plans to attend Troy University this fall. Will we be required to pay for half of college while continuing to pay child support until she reaches nineteen? If so, the mother will have made no contribution to our daughters first year of college and we will have paid over the entire yearly estimated cost of attendance to the mother and University! What will we do if my stepson and son both decide to attend college two years later when they graduate high school in 2010. What is the norm for Alabama judges to rule, we have offered to pay one-fourth of our daughters first year while the mother continues to receive child support for two, and one third of her second year of college maxium since we have two other childrens pending college cost to consider. Will this be allowed in Alabama courts?

  4. Lee Borden says:

    When in doubt, obey the decree. If the decree says child support continues until age 19 and does not mention stopping it when the child enters college, that’s what Dad needs to do. If Dad feels child support should stop and the decree doesn’t provide for it, he needs to file a petition to modify the decree.

  5. Robert Antolick says:

    My ex-wife states I will have to continue to pay Alabama child support for my son after he turns 19 in addition to paying for 1/2 his college expenses until he graduates. Is this true?

    Second, I’ve paid my child support religiously for 15 years, but have been denied my full visitation year after year. Is there really anything I can do about this that will have substantial consequences for my ex-wife. The results I have lead one to believe that the worse she will get is a night in jail, and I will be stuck with all of my attorney fees and hers. If she denies me again, it may be another court battle and thousands of dollars more. Thoughts on how to deal with denied visitation?

  6. Lee Borden says:

    I know of no reason why a NCP would be required to pay child support past the age of 19 unless the child is disabled, and then only as a result of a particular finding of disability by the court.

    On the enforcement of visitation, start with this page: http://www.divorceinfo.com/enforcement.htm. If you’ve done that, and Mom is still not cooperating, you’re ready to hire a lawyer and ask that she be ordered to pay your fees.

  7. Taylor says:

    My ex-husband of a 19 yr marriage is the father of our two sons, now 18 yrs old and 20 yrs old. We we married in Alabama, though he divorced me in California. He paid child support until each son was 18 yrs old. He moved back to AL several yrs ago. Myself and my two sons continued to live in CA, until two months ago. I solely suport my two sons, and they pay for their own gas, cars, auto insur, car repairs. My oldest saved up, and paid for his own college thus far, but cannot continue it. My youngest also recieved admittance into college, but was unable to attend because he needed to purchase a used car first, and is working to save toward going to college. Both are bright students. I am educated, but still paying off my own students loans. My children do not qualify for financial aid due to my ex-husband making too much–he makes approx $60,000. I can do no more for my sons financially, than having them live with me expense free and their groceries, internet, etc.

    My question, since my-exhusband and I were married in AL, and our sons both born in AL; and all of us currently living in AL and the boys accepted into college in Alabama—can I or how can I force their father to pay for their college tuition since he does not pay child support of any of their living expenses, and no spousal support. He is remarried and she also works and they have no children–and will not be having any children.

  8. Lee Borden says:

    You’re welcome to ask, but my guess is that it’s unlikely. Even if jurisdiction shifts to AL, the AL case is likely to apply the law of the originating state. And in any event, it’s too late for your 20 year old. Any college support must be requested before the child becomes an adult (19 in Alabama).

  9. Jennifer says:

    If a woman leaves her bed and board and commits adultery does she forfeit rights to her property? If so, how long does she have to be gone before she does forfeit rights?

  10. Crystal says:

    I have an AL divorce related child support order established in 99 for 2 kids. My ex has since remarried & had a child from that marriage. I believe he is now divorced from her as well. I would like to get a modification to increase the amount of support I receive (he has been paying $434 per month since 99. He is in the military & according to the current pay chart he now receives almost $3939 base pay per mth so I feel an increase is warranted). He also owes back time from 99 that he he was ordered to pay but hasn’t to date; I believe interest is calculated on that. I am concerned that if he is divorced from his 2nd wife & he is on child support for that child that he is paying more support for that child because my his pay is higher at that time of their divorce… considering he doesn’t even call his daughters, that adds insult to injury with me only receiving $434 mth. If there is a child support order on the child from his 2nd marriage, will that affect the calculations for my modification? or is there a primary child/first born preference?

  11. Lee Borden says:

    Good question, Crystal. I think that Dad knew he had a duty to take care of his older children when he decided to conceive any younger children and that the older child shouldn’t have to sacrifice, but I don’t make policy and I’m not a judge. Almost every judge I know would treat Dad’s child support for after-born children as a deduction from his income.

    That having been said, the reduction in child support is surprisingly small; Dad’s child support reduces the INCOME on which child support is calculated, not the child support itself. To see how much of an impact it has, run the numbers using the child support calculator at http://www.divorceinfo.com/alchildsupport.htm using your best guess about Dad’s income, new mom’s income, etc.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I have 2 children 18 and 15 from a previous marriage. divorce was in Al. My oldest turned 18 in July. The last paperwork only mentions paying half his college. No mention on when his half of support terminates. He still lives with his mom at present and he is not currently in school although he will be registering shortly. Do I still have to pay support til age 19? When can support be cut in half because still have 15 year old or does it?? My salary is currently garnished and guess also wondering if have to get a lawyer all over again.

  13. Lee Borden says:

    You will need to file a petition to modify, and by far the safest way to do that is to hire a lawyer. Child support won’t be cut in half. Run the numbers on the child support calculator to make sure in your case, but in general child support tends to drop by about a third when one of two children comes off.

    Yes, if your decree doesn’t provide otherwise, child support continues until the child is 19.

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