Child support is designed to be dynamic, to go up and down as Mom’s and Dad’s incomes change, as child care costs change, and as the cost of health insurance changes. If you and your divorced spouse continue to be reasonably cooperative after divorce, and if the child support needs to go up or down, the quick and relatively inexpensive way to do that in Alabama is with a joint petition to modify your divorce decree.
You can use a joint petition when one of your children becomes an adult and you need to adjust the child support for the lower number of children. As you probably know by now, it’s not as simple as reducing child support by half if one of two children reaches adulthood, or reducing it by a third when one of three comes off child support. In rough terms, the child support usually drops by about a third when one of two children drops off and by about 25% when one of three drops off, but the best way to know for sure is to run the numbers on the child support calculator. What you never, never want to do is to be paying your Ex less than the court has ordered you to pay. That’s a prescription for disaster.
A joint petition is also the fast and relatively cheap way to change custody from one parent to another, as when the parents agree that one or more of their children should live with a different parent. If the parents ask the court together to make a change and provide a sound reason for it, most courts will order the change quickly and with a minimum of challenge.
Most lawyers who work in divorce are also set up to prepare a joint petition for modification. The procedure is similar to that for an uncontested divorce. The lawyer for one of the parents prepares the documents, and both parents sign the documents. The lawyer then files the documents with the court. The process usually takes about a month from the time the court receives the documents.
If you and the other parent are trying to produce proof of a child’s residency for school admission, most school districts will enroll a child on the basis of copies of the signed documents and a summary from the lawyer of the status of the case and its estimated completion date (and yes, the lawyer will probably charge you a little extra to do this). You can then provide a copy of the decree to the school district when you receive it later.
So you’re not surprised, any modification involving children in Alabama will need to contain the standard relocation language. You and your Ex should read it and be familiar with it before you begin the process, so it doesn’t derail the cooperative spirit of your negotiations.
A lawyer who prepares the documents for a joint petition to modify will need a copy of your divorce decree and all subsequent orders relating to it. You will need to provide the home address and social security number for each of you, the full name, address, and social security number of each child; the address and phone number where each parent lives and where each parent works; the name of the employer for each parent; the income of each parent (including bonus, commission, overtime, and shift differential pay); the cost of work?related child care; and the cost of health insurance, if any, for the children. You probably carry in your head the rest of the information needed.
As with uncontested divorce, the cost of a joint petition to modify in Alabama varies depending on the lawyer providing the service. My legal fee for a joint petition to modify is $350 when you have minor children together, $300 when there are no minor children. In addition, you’ll need to pay a filing fee (now running $375 in the county where I file). This fee assumes an initial session of an hour or less in which we prepare the papers and that you and your Ex sign them in the form we prepare them. If it takes more of my time after that, it’s okay; I just ask you to pay for the extra time. The vast majority of people who use me for a joint petition to modify pay the flat rate and nothing more. I will need you to pay the legal fee when you come to begin the process; I prefer that you pay me the filing fee only after the papers are fully executed and ready to file with the court.
As with an uncontested divorce, we will prepare the paperwork while we’re on the phone together, and if you have high-speed Internet you will be able to see the documents as I’m preparing them. There will be no need for you or your Ex to come to my office, and barring something unforeseen, there will be no need for either of you to go to court.
If you and your Ex are not able to be cooperative and sign the documents together, you can still make the changes needed. It will just take longer and cost more, and you wouldn’t want to use me to do it.
Because this page talks about my legal practice, I need to say this: “No representation is made that the quality of the legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.”