Author: Brad J. Latta

What Can Child Support Be Used For?

What Can I Use Child Support for in Alabama?

There are many misconceptions when it comes to what child support payments can be used for. Most commonly, people believe that child support can only be used for the so-called “bare necessities.” To most people, that means only food, clothing, and shelter. But in Alabama, child support covers a wider range of expenses, including education expenses, entertainment, health care and extracurricular activities.

Guidelines are established in every state

All 50 states have created some form of child support guidelines which help the courts and attorneys to determine the appropriate amount of child support to be awarded in each case. Those guidelines require courts to consider a wide variety of factors, including the income of each parent, the ability to pay and the financial needs of the child. The goal is to provide the amount of support necessary for the child to maintain his or her current standard of living as much as possible. It is important to remember that child support laws are not uniform from one state to the next.

Parents are not required to prove how child support payments are used

In Alabama, as in many other states, parents are not required prove how the child support payments they receive are being used. The only time that becomes an issue is when there are allegations that a child’s basic needs are not being met. Otherwise, the courts will assume that the custodial parent is taking care of the child’s necessary expenses and there is no need to monitor the parent’s spending habits.

Examples of what child support should cover

It goes without saying that children need food, clothing, and a safe and comfortable place to live. Children also need basic medical care, which is usually provided through some form of health insurance coverage for their child. Any uncovered medical expenses must also be covered. Even for children in public school, there are certain fees for school-related activities. Child care as well as extracurricular activities like summer camp and sports activities should also be covered.

If you have questions regarding child support or any other family law matter, contact us online or by calling Brad J. Latta at (205) 823-1223 for a consultation.

Alabama Adoption License Requirements

Alabama’s Adoption Licensing Requirements

If you are considering becoming adoptive parents, the process can be a bit lengthy, so you need to be persistent. Typically, it takes an average of four to twelve months to complete all of the necessary steps to become licensed to adopt. The process generally includes submitting the application, participating in a home study and attending training. Parts of the process may be overwhelming and particularly invasive, but it is important to remember that everyone involved has the same goal, to ensure the safety and well-being of the children.

Basic requirements for an adoption license

Anyone applying for an adoption license must be 19 or older, with a stable family, and reasonably good health. At least one parent must be a United States citizen. There must be a regular source of income sufficient to meet the family’s financial needs.

Background checks are required without exception, including criminal background checks for all household members 19 and older, and clearance of State Central Registry on Child Abuse and Neglect for all household members 19 and older as well. Character references will be required, as well as successful completion of a home safety inspection. A home study and family assessment, along with training in First Aid and CPR for adults, infants, and children is also required. If the adoptive parent is married, the applicants must be married for at least three years. However, being married is not required.

Certain exceptions may be allowed

The Alabama State Office of Adoption may approve a policy exception to the above qualifications if it appears the applicant has considerable attributes for parenting children with special needs and is willing to accept such children. Requests for exception can be made to the Office of Permanency before proceeding with the application.

If you have questions regarding adoption or any other family law matter, contact us online or by calling Brad J. Latta at (205) 823-1223 for a consultation.

Child Support Modification

Child Support Modification in Alabama
In Alabama, a child support order can be modified pursuant to the same law that provides for an initial child support determination. The rule requires as follows:
A party seeking a modification of child support must plead and prove that there has occurred a material change in circumstances that is substantial and continuing since the last order of child support.
According to the law, there is a rebuttable presumption that child support should be modified any time there is more than a ten percent (10%) difference in the existing award and the amount established by the guidelines. The exception is when there has been no change in circumstances that causes the difference.

Understanding the 10% variation rule
Trial courts have the authority to use their discretion in modifying a child support award even in cases where the 10% variation does not exist; a common example is when there is a “material change in circumstances that is substantial and continuing.” On the other hand, the court also has the discretion to deny a modification even when there is a (10%) variation if there is a finding that the application of the guidelines would be manifestly unjust or inequitable.

Modification works both ways
Both sides of a child support award have the ability to request a modification. That means either the parent paying child support or the custodial parent receiving child support can petition the court for modification. Historically speaking, there are certain events that have been determined not to warrant a change in a child support award, including remarriage or divorce from a different spouse and mere speculation that a parent is earning or not earning overtime. Likewise, evidence that a non-custodial parent has filed bankruptcy, or suffered a reduction income due to circumstances beyond that parent’s control, are often seen as sufficient to consider modification.

If you have questions regarding child custody or any other family law matter, contact us online or by calling Brad J. Latta at (205) 823-1223 for a consultation.

When Does Alimony End in Alabama?

When Does Alimony End in Alabama?

In Alabama, alimony awards eventually cease due to cohabitation, remarriage, death or several other factors. The basic purpose of alimony is to support the spouse earning a lower income when there is a large disparity in the spouses’ incomes, in order for that spouse to continue paying normal living expenses.

Modifying an Alimony Award in Alabama

An alimony award can be modified if the parties agree to the changes. In some cases, however, the divorce decree can stipulate that alimony will be non-modifiable, which means it cannot be changed. However, in all other cases, either spouse can file a motion to modify alimony based on a material change in circumstances. Changed circumstances can include many different factors such as promotion or cohabitation — anything that requires an adjustment to the terms of the alimony order. Any changes to the support order do not affect payments already made, only future payments.

Terminating Alimony Based on Cohabitation

Cohabitation is grounds to terminate an alimony award in Alabama. Cohabitation is legally defined as two unmarried adults living together and sharing finances, household expenses and a residence. The more the relationship resembles a marriage, the more likely the court will see it as cohabitation and terminate spousal support. In some cases, even if the court doesn’t find actual cohabitation, alimony can be reduced if the cohabitating partner contributes to a supported spouse’s household expenses.

Terminating Alimony Based on Remarriage

Unless the paying spouse agrees for alimony to continue after remarriage, spousal support will terminate as soon as the supported spouse gets remarried. If you have questions regarding alimony or any other family law matters, please contact The Law Office of Brad J. Latta either online or by calling (205) 739-2422.

Alabama Visitation and Older Children

Alabama Visitation and Older Children

Alabama courts are called to act in the best interests of children when it comes to divorce, custody and visitation. There are many different factors that are considered in determining what is best. Once a child reaches the age of 12 or 13, courts typically begin take seriously the preferences of that child in making decisions regarding custody and visitation.

When does the court intervene?

It is not at all uncommon for children and parents to want to make changes to custody or visitation arrangements. While deciding what is best for the child is the foremost concern, the rights of the parents, as established through the court orders, must still be considered. In many cases, when changes need to be made to visitation, the court will require the parents to try mediation. If that doesn’t work, then the court will get involved.

Considering the older child’s preference

One common issue that arises in determining the weight that should be given to a child’s preference is what that preference is based on. In other words, does the child want a change for legitimate reasons? In some cases, a guardian ad litem may need to get involved to help facilitate changes in visitation, or to help determine the child’s true wishes.

What is a parent’s duty with regard to visitation?

Many parents don’t realize they have a duty to ensure that their child abides by the custody and visitation arrangements established by the court. With older children that can sometimes be an issue. Parents have an obligation to be sure their child goes to scheduled visitation. If not, the court can take steps to ensure compliance with the visitation order, which sometimes includes parenting classes. There is no question that parenting can be difficult at times and divorce certainly does not help with that situation. Nevertheless, parents must strive to comply with the terms of custody and visitation.

If you have questions regarding visitation or any other family law matters, please contact The Law Office of Brad J. Latta either online or by calling (205) 739-2422.

Child’s Preference in Custody Cases

Does a Child’s Preference Matter in Custody Cases?

When it comes to divorce and child custody issues, everyone has their own opinion. That includes the children who are involved. While parents will have their own beliefs about what is best for the child, it is the judge who ultimately makes the decision. In some states, judges are required to at least consider the preferences of the children when making that decision.

Custody Decisions in Alabama

If the parents in a divorce are unable to agree on custody, then a judge must intervene and determine what is in the best interests of the child. In Alabama, the judge will consider both parents and determine what is in the child’s best interests, including the child’s safety and well-being. There are several factors that Alabama judges are required to consider:

  • the child’s age and sex
  • the child’s emotional, social, moral, material, and educational needs
  • each parent’s home environment
  • each parent’s age, character, and stability
  • each parent’s mental and physical health
  • each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s needs
  • the child’s relationship with each parent
  • the child’s relationship with siblings
  • the effect on a child of changing an existing custodial arrangement
  • expert’s reports and recommendations
  • each child’s preference, if the child is of sufficient age and maturity, and
  • any other factors relevant to custody.

None of these factors is more important than any other. Judges in Alabama have very broad discretion in making custody decisions.

When Does the Judge Consider a Child’s Preference Regarding Custody?

In Alabama, as in many other courts, the judge will consider the child’s preference if the child is mature enough to voice an intelligent opinion. There is no specific age, however. Instead, the judge will look at each situation individually and determine whether the preference is reasonable based on the reasons the child gives for the preference. While the child’s preference is not controlling, in most cases it is weighed heavily in the scheme of things. Regardless, the judge will not comply with a child’s preference if it is not in the best interests of the child.

If you have questions regarding child custody or any other family law matters, please contact The Law Office of Brad J. Latta either online or by calling (205) 739-2422.

Multiple Child Support Orders

Multiple Child Support Orders in Alabama

So-called “traditional families” have certainly evolved into something much more complicated. As a result, the concept of child support has evolved as well. Parents with multiple children or multiple families are often subject to multiple child support orders. As a result, a certain innovation in calculating child support obligations is necessary.

Conflicting interests

There are cases where a father may have three children, all with different mothers. The youngest child lives with the father and his current wife, while the other two children live with their respective mothers. The concern that courts have in determining child support obligations in this situation is that the father may end up paying an inflated amount of support for those children not living with father. On the other hand, there is also a concern that children from multiple families should not be prejudiced by other child support awards for children of another family.

One method of calculating multiple child support

When calculating child support for multiple families, courts will typically calculate two separate child support obligations for each custodial parent and then average the two together. In other words, one obligation is calculated without including any prior child support order, while the second obligation is calculated with consideration of the prior support orders. Finally, the two resulting child support obligations are averaged together and this average becomes the child support award for that custodial parent.

What about the self-support reserve?

The self-support reserve is an amount of money that the obligated parent will need to support himself or herself, before paying child support. This reserve ensures that both parties have sufficient income to maintain a “basic level of subsistence living” after child support is awarded. This amount represents a percentage of the federal poverty line for one person. If the child support obligation reduces the parent’s self-support reserve below the federal poverty guideline, the child support award will likely be adjusted. The steps for determining the self-support reserves are generally as follows:

  1. determine the federal poverty guideline for the current year
  2. combine the obligor’s support orders
  3. calculate the net income of the non-custodial parent
  4. subtract the poverty guideline amount from the obligor’s net income

Once these calculations have been made, the court will determine whether the custodial parent’s income is above or below the self-support reserve. If you have questions regarding child support, or any other divorce issues, contact attorney Brad J. Latta online, or by calling (205) 739-2422.

Child Support for Disabled Children

Child Support for Disabled Children in Alabama

Every state has established its own laws regarding the duty of non-custodial parents to pay child support. In most cases, child support is required until the child reaches the age of majority, which also differs from one state to the next. In some states, there are exceptions to the rule that the duty to pay child support ends when the child is no longer a minor, such as support for educational expenses. That is no longer the case in Alabama, since the Alabama Supreme Court case Christopher v. Christopher, which ended the duty to provide post-majority support. However, an exception still remains for adult children with disabilities.

Post-majority child support for the disabled

In 1983, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld an order of payment of post-majority support for a disabled child in Ex Parte Brewington. Since that time, additional case law has provided the answers to some important questions regarding this important rule. For instance, the age of the child at the time of the divorce has no bearing on whether there is a duty to provide support, as long as the child’s disability arose during childhood and continues into adulthood.

How is the amount of support determined?

The child support guidelines used to determine a general child support award is also used for disabled children. The determination must include factors such as the child’s specific needs and social security or other income from government benefit programs.

What constitutes a “disability” with regard to child support?

There is no real statutory definition of disability that requires support from a noncustodial parent beyond the age of majority. One Alabama Supreme Court case has set out some factors to be considered, including:

  • whether the adult child is capable of earning an income sufficient to provide for his or her reasonable living expenses, and
  • whether the adult child’s mental or physical disability is the cause of his or her inability to earn that income.

If you have questions regarding child support, or any other family law matter, contact us online or by calling us at (205) 739-2422.

Paternity Fraud

What is Paternity Fraud?

Paternity becomes an issue when child support is before the court. When a child is born to unmarried parents, paternity needs to be established before child support can be ordered. While a father can acknowledge paternity, there are some instances where a women intentionally claims that a man is the father of her child, even when that is not true. This is known as paternity fraud.

The long-lasting effects of paternity fraud

Through the use of paternity tests, many would-be fathers are learning that the children they have provided financial support are not actually their biological children. This can be devastating to many people, including the non-biological father, the biological father, the families of both men, and obviously the children.

Remedies for paternity fraud

Seeking relief from a child support order, after discovering that you are not the biological father, may not be as easy you think. Indeed, it’s not as simple as submitting DNA test results to the court to get the child support order rescinded. There may be complications depending on whether the deadline for contesting paternity has passed. In fact, in some states, a DNA test is not sufficient to vacate a paternity order, without further evidence or documentation. Because the best interest of the child is the top priority for the court, it may be determined that the child should continue to receive support payments.

Be careful signing an acknowledgement of paternity

The best thing you can do to avoid being a victim of paternity fraud is to be sure before you sign anything. Someone who is looking to commit paternity fraud will be hoping that your sense of responsibility will override any hesitation you might have. Nevertheless, the smartest thing to do is request a DNA test to confirm paternity before you sign an acknowledgement of paternity. Most acknowledgements include a waiver of the right to DNA testing.

If you have questions regarding paternity, or any other family law matter, contact us online or by calling Brad J. Latta at (205) 401-1309.

 

Child Testimony in Custody Cases

Child Testimony in Custody Cases

A question that often arises in custody disputes is whether the child’s preferences are considered by the court. Certainly, the parents will have their own opinions regarding custody and visitation. The reality is that many children also have a preference as to who they want to live with after a divorce and how often they want to visit the non-custodial parent. But will the court consider the child’s preferences? Many states require the court to take testimony from the child during custody proceedings. In Alabama, it depends.

The basics of child custody in Alabama

In cases where parents are unable to agree on child custody terms, the judge will make that decision for them. In Alabama, courts are required to give custody to either the mother or the father in the case of a divorce. In deciding on which parent should have custody, or whether custody should be joint, the legal standard is the best interest of the child. This would include the child’s safety and well-being, the child’s age and gender, and child’s emotional, social, and moral needs. The court will also consider each parent’s home environment, age, character, stability, and mental and physical health. There are many other factors.

When a child’s preference is considered in Alabama

When the child involved is mature enough to articulate an informed opinion, the court will consider the child’s preference. There is no specific age at which an Alabama court must consider the child’s opinion. Instead, courts make that determination on a case by case basis. The child’s opinion may not control the judge’s decision, but it can weigh heavily.

Courts consider the child’s underlying reasons

When the court considers a child’s preference, it will also consider the reasons for that preference. For example, if the child is merely angry with one parent for disciplining the child, then the preference may not be given much weight. If, however, the child describes a better relationship with one parent or that one parent has been providing most of the care, the child’s preference would likely be given more weight. Regardless, the best interests of the child will always prevail.

Will the child testify in court?

Alabama law discourages requiring a child to testify about custodial preferences in court.  Most often, the child is brought into a judge’s chambers to testify in front of the parents’ attorneys, but not in the parents’ presence. Both parents must agree to the judge speaking with the child directly.

If you have questions regarding child custody, or any other family law matter, contact us online or by calling Brad J. Latta at (205) 401-1309.