Child Support & Alimony
Our goal is to serve your children’s best interest by aiding you in reaching a fair and appropriate child support amount.
Minor children need the proper support and care, and we at Dunsmore & Benson will diligently work to help you achieve the desired results, whether you are paying or receiving child support payments. Legal assistance is important to be sure that the court has all the relevant information and facts to make the right decision. We have experience in this area to ensure that all evidence pertinent to your case is gathered and presented for consideration.
If the parents do not share custody, the non-custodial parent is usually ordered to pay child support to aid with the care of the minor child.
The amount of child support ordered depends on a number of factors, including quantity of minor children, income level of both parents, any previous child support being paid or received, alimony being paid or received, daycare costs, health insurance costs, and state guidelines.
Also known as “spousal support,” “spousal maintenance,” or “spousal allowance,” alimony is money paid from the higher earner in a failed marriage to the lower earner, after a divorce. Alabama law says that a judge may award a temporary alimony judgment during divorce proceedings (“pendente lite”), as well as the usual alimony after finalizing the divorce. Usually the amount is to be given monthly, twice monthly, or weekly for a certain period of time. Sometimes it’s a one-time lump sum.
At one time, alimony was permanent, but that is more and more rare. Long-term is sometimes called “permanent,” but it usually has an ending date, or is between older spouses in which one spouse has no income potential.
If a marriage has been quite short, alimony may be very temporary – just enough to allow a spouse to get a job, or training or education to become a better prospect for a job. Occasionally, it may be a kind of reimbursement for working to pay for a spouse’s furthered education.
Factors in Determining Alimony
- Duration of the marriage
- Ages of the spouses – both at the time of marriage and at the time of divorce
- The emotional and physical condition of each spouse
- Earning potential and employment history of each spouse
- Earnings of each spouse – both current and reasonably expected
- Expenses of each spouse – both current and reasonably expected
- Properties – both marital and non-marital – of each spouse
- Child custody
- Fault or marital misconduct of each spouse
- Tax consequences
- Obligations for support from previous marriages
Divorce & Separation
Prepare your information
When you begin the process of dissolving a relationship, documentation, facts, and figures are necessary. Some of these include:
- Residency requirements: if the defendant is not a resident of Alabama, then the spouse must have six months residency prior to filing.
- Grounds: there are three “no-fault” options and eight “fault” options when it comes to ground for divorce.
- Incompatibility (temperament) – living together is no longer possible.
- Irreconcilable differences – the marriage has broken down and it is not practical, or completely futile, to keep trying.
- Voluntary separation – one year spent apart before filing.
- Incurable physical incapacitation
- Imprisonment for two years (of a sentence of at least seven years)
- Habitual drug use or drunkenness
- Incurable insanity (documented by the superintendent of the asylum in which the person is confined)
- Premarital pregnancy without the husband’s knowledge or agency (in favor of the husband)
- Domestic abuse or violence
- Separation for two years, with no support from the husband, on the part of a wife who has been a resident of Alabama for those two years.
- Complaint for Divorce
- Judgment of Divorce
- May be necessary:
- Marital Settlement Agreement
- Schedule for Visitation/Parenting Time of Minor Children
- Affidavit of Residency
- Commission to Take Testimony
- Affidavit Regarding the Children
- Answer, Waiver, and Agreement for Taking Testimony
- …among others
Alabama divides marital property equitably – which does not mean equal, but rather fair. It is best if the individuals can reach an agreement about the division of property, but if they are unable to do so, the court will determine the division. Not all property is considered marital property. Some exceptions include purchases prior to marriage, separate purchases, and gifts or inheritances.
Some factors judges use to help divide property include the duration of the marriage, ages at the time of wedding and of divorce, marital misconduct, value, income and earning potential of each party, the physical health and emotional health of each party, physical custody of any children, taxes, prior support obligations (to other ex-spouse(s)), etc.
Contact Dunsmore & Benson for guidance through the labyrinth of separation, divorce, or division of property.
Guardian ad Litem
We aim to ensure that family members’ rights are protected and best interests are met.
The term “guardian ad litem” refers to a court-appointed legal guardian to represent minor children or those with disabilities that render them incompetent. Most often, a guardian ad litem is appointed in cases involving child support, child custody, parentage, and visitation rights. Either parent can request a guardian ad litem, or the court can determine that one is necessary and appoint one itself. Dunsmore & Benson has skilled attorneys available to meet this need.
Minor children and those who are incompetent to protect their own rights need a voice, and we provide that.
When we are appointed as guardian ad litem, we gear our services toward achieving the best results. Some of the duties and responsibilities provided may include:
- Evidence gathering – we will compile data that is relevant, interview witnesses as needed, investigate issues or concerns, and obtain documents needed, such as records from schools, medical institutions, and the legal system.
- Support – Children need emotional support as well as legal support. We observe and monitor the family in order to become familiar with the dynamics and be better able to support as needed.
- Decision making – sometimes the right decision can be crucial, especially in the areas of visitation and custody. We determine whether psychological evaluations or counseling are advisable, and offer recommendations to the court.
- Interfacing – we, the courts, and the attorneys work together to handle such matters as determining positions on relevant issues, offering testimony, conducting discovery, filing motions, and examining witnesses during trial.
- Compliance – all parties are expected to comply with court orders to meet the needs of the represented person; we ensure that this happens.
Mediation & Arbitration
We encourage working out marital disputes through alternative dispute resolution.
The courts can cause a dispute to turn into a lengthy, expensive proceeding. Turning to mediation and arbitration can reduce or eliminate the need for extensive court time and frustration. Dunsmore & Benson’s attorneys have experience in resolving marital issues with these methods.
We make use of collaborative law, arbitration, and mediation to aid in divorcing spouses reaching a mutually-acceptable compromise out of court. All involved are expected to agree to attempt in good faith to reach an agreement for an amicable settlement without involving the court. Some of the possible forms of out of court approaches include:
- Mediation – our mediation attorneys will work with consenting parties to work toward a resolution that is mutually agreeable, with an aim toward the possible result of a settlement agreement that is legally binding.
- Arbitration – an arbitrator, which is a neutral party, listens to both sides of the situation, considers all the information that is relevant, and offers a final decision, which is generally binding only if the parties agree.
- Binding arbitration – same as arbitration, above, except that the arbitrator’s final decision is legally binding.
- Collaborative law – a participation agreement is entered voluntarily by the parties. This defines the process, and aids parties in working toward resolution with differences minimized. The attorneys of Dunsmore & Benson will ensure the agreement is followed and Alabama law is regarded.
- Other methods of alternative dispute resolution – negotiations and other approaches may be used to aid in settling marital disputes out of court.
Custody & Visitation
Child custody and child visitation decisions are made to serve the best interests of the child.
While it used to be that minor children were always placed with the mother except when she was proven incompetent or unfit, in today’s world fathers have an equal claim to custody of minor children. Some of the factors that will be considered when determining child custody include:
- Age & gender of the child
- Needs of the child
- Relationship of the child with each parent
- Home environment of each parent
- Each parent’s character, age, health, stability, capacity, and interest in meeting the needs of the child
- The preference of the child, depending on the child’s age and maturity level
Joint custody may be ordered, based on the presumption required by Alabama law that the child’s best interests include frequent and continuing contact with both parents. Joint legal custody means that decisions about the children are to be shared by both parents. These decisions include education, religion, and such. Joint physical custody means that the child will live with each parent part of the time – not necessarily an exact half-and-half split.
Factors that play into the custody decision, that help the judge to determine whether or not joint physical custody will be appropriate, include:
- the parents’ agreement on joint custody being the best arrangement
- the parents’ ability to cooperate with each other
- the parents’ ability and willingness to cultivate a positive relationship between the other parent and the child
- any history of inappropriate behavior of either parent
- the physical distance between the homes of the parents
When determining fitness of a parent, it is important to note that improper marital behavior that qualifies one as a bad spouse, does not necessarily make one an unfit parent. Adultery, for example, may be grounds for divorce, but does not necessarily affect custody.
It is best if the parents can agree together on a schedule for visitation; however, if an agreement cannot be reached, the court will determine visitation for you. If the court-ordered visitation (whether based on a parental agreement or not) is not followed, the court may choose to alter visitation, based on the best interests of the child.