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Ex parte Wilson

Supreme Court of Alabama

January 16, 2018

Ex parte Randolph G. Wilson, Jr.
v.
Teresa L. Wilson In re: Randolph G. Wilson, Jr.

         Montgomery Circuit Court, DR-03-1071.03; Court of Civil Appeals, 2150259

          PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS

          MURDOCK, Justice.

         Randolph G. Wilson, Jr. ("the husband"), petitioned this Court for certiorari review of the decision of the Court of Civil Appeals affirming the Montgomery Circuit Court's judgment denying his motion to modify his alimony obligations. Wilson v. Wilson, [Ms. 2150259, Oct. 21, 2016] So.3d (Ala. Civ. App. 2016). We reverse and remand.

         I. Proceedings Below

         The husband and Teresa L. Wilson ("the wife") were divorced in April 2004. Among other things, the divorce judgment awarded the wife $1, 250 per month in periodic alimony. In August 2013, the husband commenced an action in which he sought to modify his periodic-alimony obligation ("the first modification action"). The complaint in the first modification action alleged that the husband planned to retire approximately 10 days after the initiation of the action and that, as a result of his retirement, he would suffer a significant decrease in income.[1] The husband also alleged that the wife was now employed full-time and was capable of supporting herself without receiving periodic alimony.

         During the course of the first modification action, the wife moved to have the husband held in contempt for the husband's alleged failure to comply with court orders regarding discovery. On March 5, 2014, the trial court entered a judgment in the first modification action granting the wife's motion to hold the husband in contempt and dismissing the husband's complaint. No appeal was taken.

         In March 2015, the husband commenced the present action, again seeking to modify his alimony obligation. The husband alleged that he had suffered a material change in his income as a result of his retirement from the military and that the wife is now capable of supporting herself.[2]

         The trial court conducted a hearing at which evidence was presented ore tenus. The wife argued that the husband would be limited in the presentation of evidence to events and circumstances occurring after the entry of the March 5, 2014, judgment in the first modification action. The husband argued that he could present evidence of the change in his financial circumstances since the entry of the divorce judgment in April 2004. The trial court agreed with the wife and allowed the husband to present evidence only as to changes in circumstances occurring after the entry of the March 5, 2014, judgment.

         In November 2015, the trial court entered a judgment in which it determined that the husband had failed to meet his burden for obtaining a modification of alimony. The court denied the husband's claim and awarded the wife $5, 000 for attorney fees and costs. The husband appealed.

         On appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the judgment. Wilson v. Wilson, [Ms. 2150259, Oct. 21, 2016]__ So. 3d__ (Ala. Civ. App. 2016). The Court of Civil Appeals held that alimony is subject to modification based only on those changes in income and living expenses of the parties that have occurred since the "judgment" in the most recent action in which either party attempted to obtain a change in alimony, regardless of whether that action resulted in a change, and not on the cumulative difference between current income and expenses and the income and expenses that provided the basis for whatever "award" was last made or modified. Judge Moore and Judge Thomas declined to embrace this rationale. Instead, Judge Moore concurred in the rationale in part and concurred in the result in a writing in which he concluded that the husband's claim was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Judge Thomas joined Judge Moore's special writing.

         This Court granted certiorari review to consider whether a decision as to the modification of periodic alimony is to be based on changes in circumstances since (1) the date that alimony was awarded or last modified or (2) the date of the most recent judgment disposing of a claim for modification of periodic alimony, regardless of whether that judgment yielded any such modification.

         II. Standard of Review

"'"On certiorari review, this Court accords no presumption of correctness to the legal conclusions of the intermediate appellate court. ..." Ex parte Toyota Motor Corp., 684 So.2d 132, 135 (Ala. 1996).'
"Ex parte Helms, 873 So.2d 1139, 1143 (Ala. 2003). '"[O]n appeal, the ruling on a question of law carries no presumption of correctness, and this Court's review is de novo."' Rogers Found. Repair, Inc. v. Powell, 748 So.2d 869, 871 (Ala. 1999) (quoting Ex parte Graham, 702 So.2d 1215, 1221 (Ala. 1997))."

Ex parte C.L.C., 897 So.2d 234, 236-37 (Ala. 2004).

         III. Analysis

         An obligation to pay alimony may be modified based upon a material change in circumstances in the financial needs of the payee spouse and/or in the financial ability of the payor spouse to respond to those needs. See Ex parte Ederer, 900 So.2d 424, ...


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