Deviating from Child Support Guidelines

Alabama’s child support guidelines cover incomes of up to $20,000 per month, which means they cover the vast majority of divorcing couples. Every now and then, though, we get a sense of how the courts will treat one of those rare cases in which the income of the parties exceed that figure. The latest example is Thomas v Shepard, Case No. 2150566, Alabama Ct of Civil Appeals (December 9, 2016).

The husband was a professional writer who did not earn a salary. On his CS-41 child support income disclosure form, he stated his monthly gross income for 2011-2015 to be $5,839.03. Testimony in the trial, however, revealed that the husband received checks for $20,000 “every so often.” And the husband had received a check for one of the books he had written of about $700,000. The testimony also showed he had regularly received gifts from his father.

The trial court ordered the husband to pay $1500 per month child support for each of two sons.

The husband argued that his assets were illiquid and that he was unable to pay $3,000 per month child support. The appeals court said the trial court could have discounted this concern because the husband had easily withdrawn $50,000 from one of his many bank accounts to cover some of his expenses while the divorce was pending.

The appeals court said the issue of income for purposes of child support is a matter to be determined by the trier of fact, citing Hood v Hood, 23 So.3rd 1160, 1165 (Ala. Civ. App. 2009). It also said the court is to consider the resources of the parents, not simply their incomes, in making a determination of child support citing Ex parte St. Clair Cty. Dep’t of Human Res., 612 So.2d 482 (Ala. 1993). “The record clearly supports the conclusion that the parties had access to substantial assets . . . In short, we cannot conclude that the trial court’s child-support award was so unsupported by the evidence that it was clearly erroneous or an abuse of discretion, and we cannot reverse its judgment for that reason.”d

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