Registering a Child Support Judgment in Alabama

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has approved the registration of another state’s child support judgment in Alabama and provided guidance about how the courts should interpret it, in Mollohan v. Jelley, Case No. 2030282 (Ala. Civ. App. September 30, 2005).

The mother in this case registered a 1980 North Carolina judgment (increasing the father’s child support obligation) in Colbert County, Alabama. The father argued that the North Carolina judgment was invalid because he did not submit to jurisdiction there. The trial court disposed of the father’s objections, because the father’s attorney had filed a general answer without raising jurisdictional objections, and because the father had allowed the judgment to stand for 23 years without challenge. The Appeals Court affirmed this part of the trial court’s ruling.

The Appeals Court reversed and remanded, however, on the issue of the calculation of arrears due the mother. The trial court had ordered an arrearage of $72,000, apparently based on the assertion in the mother’s affidavit that this was the arrearage due. Neither the mother’s affidavit nor the trial court’s ruling contained any calculations supporting this figure. The trial court denied the mother’s claim for interest on the arrearage.

The father argued that the North Carolina statute of limitations for unpaid child support is 10 years and this should limit his liability. The Appeals Court pointed out, however, that Ala. Code § 30-3A-604(b) provides that in a proceeding for child support arrearages, the court is to apply the statute of limitation of the issuing state (North Carolina – 10 years) or of Alabama, whichever is longer. Because Alabama’s statute of limitations (20 years from the due date of each payment) is longer, the Appeals Court said that it should be the one that governs.

The Appeals Court used ordinary math in evaluating the trial court’s award of the arrearage. It calculated that there were 122.07 months during which child support could be due and not tolled by the statute of limitations (the .07 months comes apparently from the Appeals Court’s precise calculation of the number of days between the first untolled day for which child support is due and the date on which the child reached the age of majority). Assuming even that the father had made no payments, the Appeals Court said, the maximum arrearage would be 122.07 months times $500 per month, or a total of $61,035.

The Appeals Court remanded the case to the trial court for a more specific calculation of the total amount due before the youngest child reached majority, and the amount actually paid by the father, netting to a calculation of the father’s arrearage. The Appeals Court did not offer any guidance about whether the trial court could or should apply interest to the arrearage.

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