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Hummer v. Loftis

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

November 2, 2018

Harry Robert Hummer, Jr.
v.
Virginia Loftis Harry Robert Hummer, Jr.
v.
Virginia Loftis

          Appeal from Choctaw Circuit Court DR-10-025.01, DR-10-025.02

          THOMPSON, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         Virginia Loftis ("the mother") and Harry Robert Hummer, Jr. ("the father"), were divorced by a June 2008 judgment of the Chancery Court of Tipton, Tennessee. The Tennessee divorce judgment, among other things, awarded custody of the parties' three minor children to the mother, awarded the father visitation, and ordered the father to pay child support.

         In March 2010, the mother filed an action ("the 2010 modification action") in the Choctaw Circuit Court ("the trial court") seeking to modify the child-support provisions of the Tennessee divorce judgment and seeking an award of postminority support for the parties' disabled son. At that time, the parties' oldest child had reached the age of majority, and, therefore, the 2010 modification action pertained to the parties' younger two children. The 2010 modification action was assigned case no. DR-10-025.00. On March 16, 2011, the trial court entered an order granting a motion to withdraw a motion to dismiss filed by the father in the 2010 modification action and further granting the father's motion or agreement to submit to the trial court's jurisdiction in that action.

         On February 2, 2012, the trial court entered a judgment in the 2010 modification action in which it, among other things, determined that the parties' son ("the adult disabled son"), who by then was 19 years old, had special needs that created a disability requiring that the father's child-support obligation continue past the son's age of majority. See Ex parte Brewington, 445 So.2d 294 (Ala. 1983) (holding that a trial court may award postminority support for an adult child who is mentally or physically disabled and, therefore, not capable of self-support). Neither party appealed that February 2, 2012, judgment entered in the 2010 modification action.

         On February 20, 2015, the mother filed in the trial court a petition seeking to enforce the father's child-support obligation for the parties' adult disabled son and the parties' youngest child, who, at that time, was still a minor. In that petition, the mother also mentioned seeking enforcement of the property-division portion of the Tennessee divorce judgment, but the record contains no other mention of that claim, and, therefore, it appears that the mother abandoned that claim. The mother also sought an award of an attorney fee. The trial-court clerk assigned that action case no. DR-10-025.01.

         The father answered in case no. DR-10-025.01, denying liability, and he counterclaimed, seeking a modification of his child-support obligation. In pertinent part, the father alleged that there had been a material change in circumstances because, he said, the adult disabled son was capable of self-support and was, therefore, no longer entitled to postminority support. The father also sought an award of an attorney fee.

         As a part of his counterclaim, the father sought an independent psychiatric evaluation of the adult disabled son, and the trial court granted that request. A discovery dispute between the parties as to that evaluation occurred, and the father sought and obtained from the trial court an order compelling the mother's cooperation in obtaining the ordered evaluation. We note that each party sought to have the other held in contempt or sought sanctions with regard to the other's conduct during the pendency of this litigation and that, ultimately, in its judgment the trial court denied all pending contempt claims asserted by the parties.

         On March 3, 2015, the father initiated a separate action in the trial court by filing a petition for a rule nisi seeking to have the mother held in contempt for her purported failure to comply with the visitation provisions of the Tennessee divorce judgment. That action was assigned case no. DR-10-025.02. The trial court, on the motion of the father, entered an order consolidating case no. DR-10-025.01 and case no. DR-10-025.02.

         Later, on January 6, 2016, the father filed in case no. DR-10-025.01 an amended counterclaim in which he sought to modify the Tennessee divorce judgment by seeking an award of custody of the adult disabled son and seeking an award of postminority support from the mother. The mother opposed the father's January 6, 2016, amended counterclaim.

         On July 26, 2017, the father amended his counterclaim in case no. DR-10-025.01 to seek the termination of his child-support obligation for the parties' youngest child, who had, at that time, reached the age of majority. On July 29, 2017, the mother and the father submitted to the trial court a signed agreement that specified that the father's child-support obligation should be $1, 037 per month.

         In its December 6, 2017, judgment, the trial court modified the father's child-support obligation for the parties' adult disabled son, establishing that obligation at $1, 037 per month.[1] In that judgment, the trial court also purported to deny the father's custody-modification claim and purported to modify the terms of the father's visitation with the adult disabled son. The trial court denied all pending contempt claims, and it specified that any claims not addressed in that judgment were denied.

         The father filed a January 5, 2018, postjudgment motion to alter, amend, or vacate the judgment or, in the alternative, to dismiss the actions. In that motion, the father argued for the first time that the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the actions. On March 9, 2018, the trial court entered an order denying the father's January 5, 2018, motion, concluding that it had jurisdiction over the parties' claims and making specific findings of fact in support of its December 6, 2017, judgment. The father timely appealed.

         On appeal, the father asserts two separate arguments in support of his contention that the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to enter its December 6, 2017, judgment. The father first contends that the trial court never obtained subject-matter jurisdiction over the parties under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act ("the UIFSA"), § 30-3D-101 et seq., Ala. Code 1975. In order for a court to enforce or modify a child-support order from another state, the UIFSA requires that the foreign order be registered in Alabama. § 30-3B-601, Ala. Code 1975. The procedure for registering a foreign child-support order is set forth in § 30-3D-602, Ala. Code 1975, and § 30-3D-611, Ala. Code 1975, sets forth the authority for modifying a foreign child-support order.[2] A foreign child-support order may be registered under § 30-3D-602, Ala. Code 1975, which states, in part:

"(a) Except as otherwise provided in Section 30-3D-706, [Ala. Code 1975, ] a support order or income-withholding order of another state or a foreign support order may be registered in this state by sending the following records to the appropriate tribunal in this state:
"(1) a letter of transmittal to the tribunal requesting registration and enforcement;
"(2) two copies, including one certified copy, of the order to be registered, including any modification of the order;
"(3) a sworn statement by the person requesting registration or a certified statement by the custodian of the records showing ...

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