Child Support with No CS Forms

Will an Alabama appellate court ever allow a child support award to stand that’s not supported by the appropriate Child Support Forms? The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has answered that question with a quiet yes on a few occasions. Now, however, it has found the case with no child support forms that it says merits a reversal.

Every judge who handles divorce or child support knows (or should know) that the child support forms (CS-41 income affidavit for both parents and CS-42 showing the calculations) are nearly always an essential step in sustaining a child support award on appeal. On occasion, the Appeals Court has affirmed a trial court judgment even though the record did not contain CS forms, but only when the record “clearly indicates that the award comports with the evidence regarding the parties’ incomes.” Rimpf v. Campbell, 853 So. 2d 957 (Ala. Civ. App. 2002); Mosley v. Mosley, 747 So. 2d 894 (Ala. Civ. App. 1999).

In the case of Harmon v. Harmon, Case No. 2031063 (Ala. Civ. App. November 4, 2005), however, the Appeals Court ruled that the child support awarded did not meet this standard. The trial court had awarded $650 per month for one child to a mother who made $7,800 per year from a father who made $80,000 to 85,000 per year. The Appeals Court stated that application of the guidelines would result in an award of child support “significantly greater than $650 per month.”

Lee’s Note: Actually, my use of the guidelines (which you can check for yourself if you use Internet Explorer as your browser) results in a figure of $781 per month. That’s higher than $650, but I’m not sure it’s “significantly higher,” particularly if the father’s cost of health insurance (not in the record) was significant.

The Appeals Court acknowledged that the trial court had ordered the father to pay private school tuition and that the child was no longer attending private school, but it noted that it was bound to consider the case on the record, which said nothing about the child’s change of schools.

Therefore, because the trial court neither awarded child support under Rule 32 on the basis of the husband’s percentage share of the parties’ combined income nor made an express finding that a deviation from the Rule 32 child-support guidelines was justified, we reverse the judgment as to the award of child support and remand the cause for the trial court to render a child-support award in accordance with Rule 32, Ala. R. Jud. Admin.

The Appeals Court affirmed the trial court on its allocation of marital property and alimony award. In their dissent, Judges Thompson and Murdock dissented from the court’s ruling on the grounds that the trial court’s rulings on property division and spousal support were so stingy with the wife as to exceed the trial court’s discretion.