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Clay v. Clay

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

December 15, 2017

Joenathan Clay
v.
Ann Hatcher Clay

         Appeal from Dallas Circuit Court (DR-82-207.01)

          DONALDSON, Judge.

         "An appeal will ordinarily lie only from a final judgment; that is, a judgment that conclusively determines the issues before the court and ascertains and declares the rights of the parties." Palughi v. Dow, 659 So.2d 112, 113 (Ala.1995). Joenathan Clay ("the former husband") filed a notice of appeal from a judgment of the Dallas Circuit Court ("the trial court") regarding his liability to Ann Hatcher Clay ("the former wife") for a child-support obligation. Although the former husband contends that a statute of limitations bars the former wife from recovering against him, the judgment from which this appeal was taken is not sufficiently final to invoke our appellate jurisdiction. Therefore, we must dismiss the appeal.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On October 19, 1982, the trial court entered a default judgment divorcing the parties ("the 1982 judgment") in case number DR-82-207. The 1982 judgment granted the former wife custody of the parties' three children, who were minors at the time, granted visitation rights to the former husband, and ordered that the former husband pay $225 per month for the maintenance and support of the minor children.

         On May 13, 2016, the former wife, through counsel, commenced an action in the trial court by filing a pleading titled "Wife's Motion to Show Cause." The pleading was assigned case number DR-82-207.01 In her pleading, the former wife alleged that the former husband had failed to make any child-support payments as ordered in the 1982 judgment and that he had "failed to give a[] valid reason for his failure to follow" the order to pay child support. The only relief sought by the former wife in her pleading was an order of the trial court requiring the former husband "to appear and show cause why he has failed to pay the [c]ourt ordered monies."

         On June 3, 2016, the former husband filed an answer in which he admitted that the parties had been divorced by the 1982 judgment and that he had been ordered to pay $225 per month in child support. The former husband also asserted in his answer that the parties' youngest son, C.C., had reached the age of majority on June 30, 1995, and that, therefore, the former wife's pleading was barred by the statute of limitations found in § 6-2-32, Ala. Code 1975, which provides: "Within 20 years, actions upon a judgment or decree of any court of this state, of the United States, or of any state or territory of the United States must be commenced."

         A trial was held on September 19, 2016. Testimony established that the parties had three children during the marriage, the youngest of whom had reached the age of majority on June 30, 1995. The former husband testified that he had not been aware that he had been ordered to pay $225 per month in child support in the 1982 judgment until the former wife filed her "Motion to Show Cause." The former husband testified that the former wife had never asked him for any child support and that he had never made any child-support payments.

         The former husband testified that, although he had not paid child support, he had given an automobile to one of the parties' children. He also testified that he had given money to the parties' children, but not on a regular basis. The former wife testified that she had never received any child-support payments from the former husband. The former wife denied that the former husband had provided any gifts to the children. The former wife also testified that she had not, before this proceeding, sought to enforce the child-support obligation against the former husband. At the end of the testimony, counsel for the former husband argued that the former wife's claims were barred by the statute of limitations found in § 6-2-32.

         On January 2, 2017, the trial court issued the following judgment:

"This matter came before the court for trial and the parties were represented by their counsel of record, and the evidence indicated as follows:
"1) That the parties were divorced pursuant to a Decree of Divorce dated October 19, 1982.
"2) That the [former husband] was not present at the hearing in 1982 and a Decree of Divorce by Default was entered against him.
"3) That the [former husband] testified he had no knowledge of the divorce hearing and/or decree ...

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