from Henry Circuit Court (DR-14-900049)
THOMPSON, Presiding Judge.
September 16, 2014, Felicia Wojtala ("the mother")
filed in the Henry Circuit Court ("the trial
court") a complaint seeking a divorce from Thomas
Wojtala ("the father"). In her complaint, the
mother sought an award of joint legal and joint physical
custody of the parties' two minor children, an equitable
property division, and an award of alimony and child support.
The mother also requested pendente lite support. The father
answered and counterclaimed, seeking an award of joint legal
and joint physical custody of the parties' minor children
and a division of the parties' marital property.
mother filed three separate motions seeking pendente lite
support, and the trial court conducted a hearing on those
motions on January 29, 2015. Although the parties refer to an
"order" issued by the trial court following that
January 29, 2015, hearing, no pendente lite support order is
contained in the record or was entered on the State Judicial
Information System. In his brief on appeal, the father refers
to that pendente lite "order" as a
"verbal" order or instruction. It appears from the
parties' references, both below and in their briefs to
this court, to that pendente lite "order" that the
trial court orally instructed the father to pay household
bills pending the final hearing on the merits.
trial court conducted a hearing on the parties' claims,
and on May 6, 2016, it entered an order in which it awarded
custody of the parties' minor children to the mother,
ordered the father to pay child support, and divided the
parties' marital property. The mother filed a purported
postjudgment motion, which the trial court denied, and the
court remanded the action to the trial court for a
determination of the mother's claim for postminority
support for the parties' minor children. On February 23,
2017, the trial court entered a judgment in which it denied
the postminority-support claim. This court later again
remanded the action for the trial court to rule on all of the
pending property-division claims. On March 30, 2017, the trial
court entered an order awarding the mother 20% of the
father's military-retirement benefits. That order,
because it disposed of the last of the pending claims between
the parties, constituted a final judgment. See Smith v.
Butler-Austin, 108 So.3d 1014, 1020 (Ala. Civ. App.
2012) (opinion on return to remand) ("Those judgments
disposed of the remaining pending claims between the parties
and, therefore, constituted a final judgment in this
record reveals the following pertinent facts. The parties
married in August 1985. Two children were born of the
parties' marriage; at the time of the entry of the
divorce judgment, those two children were no longer minors.
During their marriage, the parties had also adopted two
children, both of whom were still minors at the time of the
entry of the divorce judgment. For the purpose of this
opinion, we refer to those two minor children as "the
son" and "the daughter." The son and the
daughter have special needs. The State of Hawaii, where the
son and the daughter were adopted, provides a stipend for the
children that they will continue to receive until they reach
the age of majority. The son reached the age of majority for
Hawaii, i.e., 18 years of age, in May 2016. See Haw.
Rev. Stat. § 577-1; but see § 26-1-1, Ala.
Code 1975 (the age of majority in Alabama is 19). The
daughter will reach the age of majority for Hawaii in
has had some behavioral problems, and the mother testified
that he has Attention-Deficit Disorder ("ADD") and
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder ("ADHD").
The daughter has bipolar disorder, and she lived in a
treatment facility for all except one month of the nearly
two-year period during which the parties were separated. The
daughter's treatment in that facility was paid by
Medicaid. During the time she was in that in-patient
treatment facility, the mother continued to receive the
stipend for both the son and the daughter; we note that the
father received and deposited that stipend for several months
following the parties' separation when the son was living
with him. The mother admitted she had spent little to none of
the adoption stipend on the daughter during the time the
daughter was in the treatment facility.
mother testified that she received $300 in income every two
weeks from a restaurant owned by her boyfriend and in which
she worked; the father's questioning of the mother could
have made the trial court question the veracity of the
mother's claimed income. Regardless, the mother conceded
that she had, until recently, worked for $9 an hour and that
she was capable of earning at that income level for full-time
father has retired from the military, and he receives $3,
353.52 monthly in military-retirement income. In addition,
the father testified that he earned $50 per hour as a
maintenance test pilot for the Army Fleet Support. The father
testified that his income from that job was approximately
$90, 000 in the year before the divorce hearing.
divorce judgment, the trial court determined that, under the
Rule 32, Ala. R. Jud. Admin., child-support guidelines, the
father's child-support obligation for the son and the
daughter should be $1, 594.01. We note that the record on
appeal does not contain the child-support forms that Rule 32
and our caselaw require be submitted to the trial court and
included by the trial court in its judgment. Lightel v.
Myers, 791 So.2d 955, 961 (Ala. Civ. App. 2000).
However, the trial court then credited the father with the
entire $1, 352 monthly adoption stipend for those children,
and it thereby reduced the father's child-support
obligation and ordered the father to pay $242 per month as
mother argues on appeal that the trial court erred in
offsetting the father's child-support obligation by
affording him a credit in the amount of the adoption subsidy
received for the benefit of the son and the daughter. In
W.R. v. C.R., 75 So.3d 159 (Ala. Civ. App. 2011),
this court held that an adoption subsidy could not serve as a
credit against a support-paying spouse's child-support
obligation. In that case, the mother was awarded custody of
the parties' adopted special-needs children, and the
father argued that he should receive a credit for at least
half of the amount of the adoption subsidy the parties
received as a result of adopting the special-needs children.
This court analyzed whether an adoption subsidy for
special-needs children is intended to be a substitute for a
parent's income or a supplement to that income. This
court noted that payments from a third-party source may be
offset against a child-support obligation if those
third-party payments are intended to be a substitute for the
parent's income, but that no offset was available if the
third-party payments are intended to be a supplement to the
parent's or parents' income. 75 So.3d at 166-67. The
court also pointed out that, had the parents not divorced,
the children would have had the benefit of both parents'
income together with the adoption subsidy. This court
concluded that "the adoption subsidy is supplemental to
the adoptive parents' income, and, as such, the subsidy
cannot serve as a credit against the father's
child-support obligation." W.R. v. C.R., 75
So.3d at 169.
reaching that conclusion in W.R. v. C.R., supra,
this court noted that the father had argued that the trial
court should have deviated from the Rule 32 child-support
guidelines. "'A trial court has the discretion to
deviate from the child support guidelines in situations where
it finds the application of the guidelines would be
manifestly unjust or inequitable.'" W.R. v.
C.R., 75 So.3d at 169 (quoting State ex rel. Golden
v. Golden, 710 So.2d 924, 926 (Ala. Civ. App. 1998)).
This court held that, under the facts of that case, the trial
court had not abused its discretion in refusing to deviate
from the child-support guidelines.
father in this case, arguing in support of the trial
court's judgment, contends that the trial court deviated
from the Rule 32 child-support guidelines in reaching that
part of its judgment pertaining to child support. The father
cites a case from Minnesota in which the court held that, in
addition to considering the parents' ability to meet the
child's needs, the Minnesota child-support statutes
required that the needs and financial resources of the child
could be considered in determining child support. See
Strandberg v. Strandberg, 664 N.W.2d 887 (Minn.Ct.App.
2003). In that case, however, the father's ability to pay
child support was at issue because of his low income.
"In this case, excluding the adoption subsidy from
consideration in setting child support produces an
unreasonable result. The overarching policy of the child
support statute is to ensure that children's needs are
met. Murphy v. Murphy, 574 N.W.2d 77, 81 (Minn.App.
1998). The child support statute and guidelines are also
based on the obligor's ability to pay. Schneider [v.
Schneider], 473 N.W.2d [329, ] 332 [(Minn.Ct.App.
1991)]. In light of those principles, it is reasonable to
consider the adoption subsidy as a resource available for
meeting the child's needs, particularly in cases like
this where the obligor parent cannot cover his own expenses.
It is inappropriate to have litigants pushed into poverty by
child support obligations that are set without considering