from Mobile Circuit Court (DR-12-901095)
Joel White ("the father") and Kimberly Henderson
White ("the mother") were married in 2010. There
are two children of the marriage ("the children")
-- a son ("the son"), born in June 2011, and a
daughter ("the daughter"), born in July 2012. The
mother also has an older son ("the mother's older
son") from a previous relationship. In 2012 the parties
separated, and, in November 2012, the father filed a
complaint in the Mobile Circuit Court seeking, in pertinent
part, a divorce from the mother, an award of custody of the
children, and an award of child support. He also filed a
motion in which he alleged that the mother had endangered, or
had threatened to endanger, the children and requested an
award of pendente lite custody of the children subject to the
mother's visitation, exclusive possession of the marital
residence while the action was pending, and an award of
pendente lite child support. The circuit court held a hearing
on the motion and awarded the father the relief he sought,
except that it did not order the mother to pay pendente lite
child support. Thereafter, the mother filed an answer to
the father's complaint and a counterclaim seeking, in
pertinent part, a divorce from the father, an award of
"primary" physical custody of the children, and an
award of child support.
prolonged period of contentious discovery commenced, during
which the father maintained pendente lite custody of the
children. Numerous continuances were requested and granted,
and the circuit court required the parties to participate in
mediation. In May 2016 the circuit court entered an order
informing the parties that it would grant no further
continuances and setting an August 30, 2016, trial date;
however, it later entered an order granting another
continuance, setting a November 15, 2016, trial date, and
informing the parties that there would be "absolutely no
the three-day divorce trial began, the son was five years old
and the daughter was four years old. The divorce trial began
on November 15, 2016, and continued on December 2, 2016. At
the close of testimony on December 2, 2016, the circuit-court
judge orally acknowledged that the divorce trial had not
reached completion and said: "I'm doing away with
the [father's pendente lite custody award]. I'm
giving [the parents] joint legal custody of their children.
It's going to be joint custody. One week with one parent.
One week with the other parent." The divorce trial ended
on April 18, 2017.
April 26, 2017, the circuit court entered a final judgment
that, in pertinent part, divorced the parties, awarded them
joint custody of the children, and ordered them to exchange
physical custody of the children on an alternating weekly
basis. The circuit court ordered the father to pay the
children's health-insurance costs and
"the amount of $1, 372.80 each month as child support
effective May 1, 2017. (Child support is in compliance with
the Guidelines of Rule 32, [Ala. R. Jud. Admin., ] with the
father filed a timely postjudgment motion. The circuit court
held a hearing on the motion and entered an order modifying
certain provisions of the judgment that are not relevant to
this appeal, and the father filed a timely notice of appeal.
He seeks our review of whether the evidence presented
supports an award of joint custody of the children, whether
the circuit court miscalculated his child-support obligation,
and whether the judgment contains an ambiguity that the
circuit court refused to clarify.
we consider whether the evidence presented supports an award
of joint custody of the children. Our legislature has
indicated that joint-custody arrangements are favored, §
30-3-150, Ala. Code 1975, and should be considered in every
child-custody case, § 30-3-152(a), Ala. Code 1975.
"In original divorce actions, the parties stand on an
equal footing with no presumption of entitlement to custody
inuring to either parent. See Ex parte Couch, 521
So.2d 987, 989 (Ala. 1988); see also Smith v. Smith,
727 So.2d 113, 114 (Ala. Civ. App. 1998). The primary concern
in making an initial determination of child custody incident
to a divorce action is the best interests of the children.
See Couch, 521 So.2d at 989; see also C.B.B. v.
J.S.D., 831 So.2d 620, 621 (Ala. Civ. App. 2002). To
that end, the trial court is given wide discretion in
awarding custody and establishing visitation, and its
determination of such matters will not be reversed absent a
showing of a clear abuse of discretion. See Kovakas v.
Kovakas, 12 So.3d 693, 697 (Ala. Civ. App. 2008);
see also Kent v. Green, 701 So.2d 4, 5 (Ala. Civ.
"The ore tenus rule is based, in part, on the unique
position of the trial court to personally observe the parties
and witnesses and to assess their demeanor and credibility.
See Ex parte Fann, 810 So.2d 631, 633 (Ala. 2001);
see also Kent, 701 So.2d at 5. Additionally,
'"[i]n child custody cases especially, the
perception of an attentive trial judge is of great
importance."' Fann, 810 So.2d at 633
(quoting Williams v. Williams, 402 So.2d 1029, 1032
(Ala. Civ. App. 1981)). Factors to be considered in making a
child-custody award include the age and sex of the children;
their emotional, social, moral, material, and educational
needs; and the characteristics of those seeking custody,
including their age, character, stability, mental and
physical health, and their respective home environments.
See Ex parte Devine, 398 So.2d 686, 696-97 (Ala.
Lowery v. Lowery, 72 So.3d 701, 704-05 (Ala. Civ.
father testified that he had been unhappy in the marriage
because the mother emotionally and verbally abused him,
damaged the marital residence by throwing and breaking things
in anger, and spoke negatively about him and his family to
the children. He also criticized the mother for not attending
church or graduating from college and for abusing alcohol,
prescription medication, and cocaine.
mother testified that she had been unhappy in the marriage
because the marital residence was unimproved and unsafe and
unsanitary for the children. She said that
"vagrants" lived in an outbuilding in the backyard,
which was cluttered with lumber, nails, paint cans, boats,
trailers, and rotting vehicles. She criticized the father for
going to bars after work, for not cleaning up after his cats,
and for leaving ...