Financial support obligations stemming from an Alabama divorce are rarely intended to be life-long.
Whether it's child support or spousal support, most obligations have an expiration date. For example, child support typically ends at the age of majority, which is 19-years-old in Alabama. Spousal support usually only lasts 2 to 5 years, unless an order for permanent alimony is issued.
There are circumstances under which the courts will allow early termination of support obligations. But you have to ask.
Birmingham Divorce Attorney Steven Eversole of Eversole Law LLC is well-versed in the process of requesting and obtaining termination of support obligations. In each case, our experienced legal team conducts a thorough analysis of the facts prior to filing the request to ensure there is a good chance the court will grant it and clients aren't wasting time and money.
Let's start with termination of child support obligations.
Termination of Child Support
Generally speaking, child support obligations in Alabama will be owed until the child reaches the age of 19. That is considered the age of majority in this state.
Child support is paid to the custodial parent by the non-custodial parent in order to ensure the children receive financial support from both parents in the event of separation. It may also come in the form of health insurance premium payments and division of financial responsibilities for the child's daily care, education and various extracurricular activities.
Absent an out-of-court agreement between the parents, these payments are ordered by a judge in accordance with Rule 32, Alabama Child Support Guidelines. The final decision factors in each parent's income and earning capacity, the number of children involved and the best interests of the children.
Prior to the child turning 19, these payments can be modified at the request of either parent on various grounds. However, termination of child support payments is tougher to obtain. In general, this can happen in one of the following circumstances:
- Child reaches the age of majority
- Child dies
- Paying parent obtains physical custody
- Paying parent loses/forfeits his or her parental rights
- Paying parent requests the child be emancipated
The first two are fairly straightforward, and will likely be granted without issue.
In the case of a paying parent obtaining physical custody, it's likely the court will terminate or at least amend support obligations at the same hearing at which the new custody arrangement is decided. However, it's important for the attorney representing that parent to be sure of it. It may also be necessary for that parent to request for child support payments from the newly non-custodial parent.
If a parent loses or forfeits his or her parental rights (called termination of parental rights), he or she will no longer be obligated to financially support that child. Most courts will not allow parents to abandon his or her financial obligation simply because he or she chooses to do so. The courts will usually seek a finding that the parent is somehow unfit and that termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child. Alternatively, a parent may agree to termination of parental rights if there is someone else (i.e., a stepparent, grandparent, etc.) who wants to legally adopt the child.
Finally, child support obligations may be terminated if the paying parent requests emancipation. This would be reserved for cases wherein the child may be under the age of 19, but is functioning as an independent adult. An example might be an 18-year-old who joins the military. These requests are carefully weighed by the court on an individual basis, and grant of such requests are by no means guaranteed.
It's worth noting that after the 2013 Alabama Supreme Court decision in Christopher v. Christopher, parents are no longer obligated to pay college tuition costs as a part of child support payments. Some marital agreements may include such a provision where both sides come to a mutual agreement about it, but it can no longer be ordered as an extension of child support.
Termination of Alimony
Alimony, also known as spousal support, is financial assistance paid from one former spouse to another in order to aid their economic recovery or allow them to avoid impoverishment after divorce.
Usually, unless the divorce decree specifies the need for permanent alimony, this support is not continued indefinitely. However, there are some circumstances under which spousal support may be terminated early. All include a material change in circumstance.
The most common is specifically spelled out in Ala. Code. 30-2-55. This allows for termination of alimony upon either remarriage or cohabitation. That is, if your former spouse to whom you are paying alimony is remarried or now living with a new boyfriend or girlfriend, the law allows for termination of spousal support.
The burden of proof upon filing a petition rests with petitioner. In the case of a remarriage, public records can easily establish this fact. However, proof of cohabitation may be a bit trickier. It typically involves presenting proof of:
- Financial interdependencies (ie., does the couple share a residence, utility bills, grocery bills, household chores, etc.?)
- Social interdependencies (i.e., is it an exclusive relationship, do they include their respective children in activities and events, etc.).
Sometimes people present the court with evidence gleaned from social media (i.e., photographs, vacations, messages, posts, etc.). Other times, it can be established by a change in financial habits.
Other reasons for termination of support may be:
- Death of either former spouse;
- Financial windfall by receiving spouse;
- Loss of employment or income by paying spouse.
No matter what the situation, call us today to learn more about your rights, obligations and the likelihood of success in filing such a petition.