Divorce is rarely a pleasant ride, even when separation is greatly desired by both parties.
Still, some splits are more contentious than others. Having an experienced, understanding divorce lawyer can help ease the burden. That kind of knowledgeable third-party guidance can help wisely determine which battles are worth fighting, and which are best to extend a compromise.
Recently, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals took on review of an acrimonious divorce in Stover v. Stover. It involved the dissolution of a long-time marriage, which began in 1983, and resulted in two children.
According to court records, the day after their 29th wedding anniversary, husband notified wife he had been engaged in an extramarital affair for three years. The two separated the following month, and husband filed for divorce several months later. At the time, the oldest child was an adult, but the younger one was 17 and suffered from a severe case of a rare genetic disorder affecting the nervous system.
Husband alleged wife was physically abusive to him, cursed at him in younger child's presence, filed a false order of protection from abuse against him and harassed him in text messages and voice mails. Husband requested divorce, custody of the younger child, child support form mother, and an order compelling mother to attend parenting classes.
Wife responded denying his allegations and filed a counterclaim alleging emotional and physical abuse by husband, text message harassment and asserting father was unable to care for younger child. She too sought custody and child support, as well as alimony and attorney fees.
In the midst of all this, husband asserted wife was physically combative to him during custody exchanges, even after those exchanges were moved to a local police station. Wife stated she was the child's primary caregiver and father could not meet child's physical needs. She further stated she was forced to drop the protection order bid because father told her he would lose his job – and thus the child's health insurance. Father denied all this.
A trial was held in September 2013, but no judgment had been entered when father filed another motion seeking custody of the child after school workers reportedly observed unexplained bruises on the child, who reportedly cried and stated, “Mommy hurt.”
Mother denied these allegations, noting the child's condition regularly caused her to bump into objects and further noted the child did not speak in two-word sentences, nor did she call her “mommy.” (She referred to her instead as “muh.”) The local Department of Human Resources investigated the claim and later returned a finding of “no merit.”
Trial court divorced the parties, granted joint custody of the child, ordered father to pay $125 monthly to mother in child support, declined alimony and declined to award wife any entitlement to father's retirement account.
Mother filed a motion to amend or vacate the judgment, which was denied. She appealed to the appellate court.
The appeals court affirmed the joint custody agreement, finding both parents love and care for the child and are capable of meeting her needs. On the issue of child support, the court found wife failed to prove father was voluntarily under-employed, and therefore would not alter the original finding.
However, the court did reverse on the issue of the retirement funds. Initially, circuit court ruled mother had not proven the value of the account, and therefore was not entitled to a portion of it. However, that was not the case and, either way, that would not have been grounds to deny her access.
Therefore, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part.
Our Birmingham divorce lawyers know that such disputes have a way of eroding one's mental and emotional health. We understand not every separation can be amicable. However, it's our goal to make sure our clients walk away from an unhappy marriage with the financial and familial stability necessary to move on to the next chapter.
Stover v. Stover, Feb. 20, 2015, Alabama Court of Civil Appeals