Hey Appeals Court, Please Dismiss My Appeal!

Mr. Blasdel got the dismissal of his own appeal that he apparently wanted. Seems a waste of all that lawyering, though.

The case is Blasdel v. Blasdel, Case No. 2071055 (Ala. Civ. App. July 31, 2009). The trial court in Limestone County divorced Mr. Blasdel and his wife while Ms. Blasdel was recovering from serious injuries that made it difficult for her to work. She had fallen from the deck behind their home. The trial court sorted through claims by both of physical abuse by the other (no, I am not aware how a woman too injured to work can beat up her able-bodied husband — you’ll have to go find the Blasdels and ask if you need to know).

Ruling in July, 2008, the trial court ordered both parties to refrain from “harassing, intimidating, bothering, cursing, striking, interfering with or communicating with or having any contact with each other . . .”. It also awarded the parties joint legal custody of the parties’ son, with sole physical custody to Dad. The trial court didn’t explain, and the appeals court didn’t question, how Mom and Dad are supposed to share joint legal custody of a child without “communicating with or having any contact with each other.”

The trial court did not order Mom to pay child support right away. Instead, apparently finding that Mom was able to work despite her injuries, the court ordered her to go find a job and for the parties to exchange CS-41 income affidavits. The trial court said that Mom

shall commence paying child support consistent with [Ala. R. Jud. Admin.,] Rule 32 in the month of January 2009. In December 2008 (or earlier when employment [is] secured) the parties are to exchange CS-41 forms for there to be a calculation of the appropriate child support to be paid from [Mom] to [Dad] beginning January 2009 and each month thereafter that child support is obligated to be paid pursuant to law.”

Dad appealed, but in his appeal Dad argued that the trial court’s order was nonfinal because it left the parties’ respective abuse allegations unresolved and because it failed to settle the issue of child support. The appeals court obliged.

The appeals court ruled that the trial court’s statement about all those things the parties shouldn’t do to each other constituted a ruling on their respective protection from abuse petitions. It agreed with the husband, however on the issue of the finality of the child support question. The appeals court discussed two recent cases, Tomlinson v. Tomlinson, 816 So. 2d 57 (Ala. Civ. App. 2001) and Parker v. Parker, 946 So. 2d 480 (Ala. Civ. App. 2006). In Tomlinson, the appeals court dismissed the appeal of a ruling ordering the “prompt submission of [income affidavits]” to use in calculating support. In Parker, on the other hand, the appeals court accepted the appeal and ruled on its merits, even though the trial court had “reserved” child support “because of the mother’s apparent lack of income.” The Blasdel appeals court said the difference was that in Tomlinson and in this case, the setting of child support awaited the occurrence of a specific event, like the submission of income affidavits. In Parker, by contrast, there was no specific event on which the parties or the court were waiting.

On the ground in Alabama. This is basically the fault of the trial court. It’s not clear what portion of the trial court’s ruling Dad objected to. Whatever the issue, he apparently felt the need to file this appeal to rule out any chance that Mom would argue later that he had waited too long to appeal the court’s ruling. And his goal is accomplished. Now, when Dad files that appeal after the court rules on child support, all issues will be ripe.

But Dad got his clarity at a high cost in the form of legal fees and judicial expense. Seeing this with the benefit of hindsight, one wishes the trial court had done one of two things: either find that Mom is voluntarily unemployed and set child support currently, or set child support at zero and invite Dad to file a petition to modify in the future when Mom’s condition improved. “Ordering” a parent to pay child support beginning on some future date based on totally speculative future events invites results like this.

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