March 4, 2020
Written on behalf of Daniel H. Chambers Attorney at Law, P .C.
This blog post is based on our white paper, ALABAMA DIVORCE LAW IS CHANGING: What You Need To Know. Click here to read the white paper.
Divorce law in Alabama has changed dramatically and is continuing to change. If you live in Alabama and you’re considering a divorce or even currently going through a divorce, you may not be playing by the rules you thought you were.
Recent changes in Alabama law have farreaching consequences for people of all income levels who are considering divorce and in some instances those who have already been divorced and are looking to change their rights and obligations. These changes involve both the law as we normally think of it and the law as it is applied on a day-to-day basis by judges across the state.
The changes involve a wide variety of areas in Alabama divorce law, but we will be restricting the scope of our discussion here to three particular areas that seem to be affecting people.
Under the old way of doing things, mothers and fathers simply walked into court expecting the judge to award custody to the mother, with the father (maybe) getting every other weekend. This is simply not the case anymore. We have found mothers coming to us after having gone to court on their own, only to realize that the rules have changed. We have also had fathers come see us not understanding that they even had a chance at sharing custodial time 50-50 with their former wives. In both cases, mothers and fathers did not understand their rights, and this lack of understanding affected their ability to be with their children.
Most people only think of the law changing by the direct action of the legislature (passing a new law) or, on a somewhat more sophisticated level, by the passage of express new case law (as we will discuss further below when we talk about college expenses and potential tax implications). Another way the law changes is by how it is applied on a day-to-day basis by judges. The law, in part, is shaped by (and shapes) our own society’s values. To that end, judgment becomes a critical part of how the law works. That is where the judge can play a deciding part in your divorce case.
When it comes to custodial arrangements, for instance, society has undergone a dramatic shift in its appreciation for the role of the father in parenting. As a result, judges have come to view older customary forms of thinking as no longer applying or in need of being changed. The idea that the mother always gets the child is among these older forms of thinking. For that reason, judges today work harder than ever to find the fairest custodial arrangement between the parents where this arrangement can be considered to be in furtherance of the child’s best interests. Very often, the child’s best interests demand that the father receive just as much custodial time with the child as the mother does.
What does this mean for you and your child during your divorce? If you understand that the rules of the game have changed when it comes to custodial arrangements, you can walk into court better prepared whether you are a mother or a father.
This point also highlights the importance of consulting with an experienced legal advisor who understands not only what the law says now, but also how it is being applied by the specific judges within your geographic area. The strategy of your case may depend on a grasp of those local issues and legal trends.
Rules on custody, however, are relevant to other issues besides custody arrangements today. They can also be relevant to determining a parent’s responsibility for the payment of college expenses in Alabama.
Noncustodial parents are no longer required to pay college expenses. This area of law has long been controversial in Alabama. Ever since the case of Ex parte Bayliss was decided in 1989, legal observers have taken opposing views as to whether a parent of a divorce should be required to pay the necessary college expenses of a post minority child (these necessary expenses being room, board, books, tuition and fees). This in light of the fact that non-divorced parents could not be required to provide for the necessary college expenses of a post-minority child. Bayliss stated the legal rule in Alabama that a divorcing parent was indeed responsible for paying the college expenses for the post-minority child, the age of majority in Alabama being 19.
The twist to the Bayliss case, of course, was that the child had reached the age of majority. If the child had reached the age of majority and was no longer considered dependent on the parent, how could the parents still be required to pay the child’s college expenses?
This question was answered in October of 2013. In the case of Ex parte Christopher, the Alabama Supreme Court decided that divorcing parents in Alabama were indeed no longer responsible for college expenses of a child who had reached the age of majority.
This change, however, comes with potential tax implications. If you are a noncustodial parent who pays the college tuition of your majority-age child and you no longer claim your child as a dependent on your taxes, you can no longer deduct the payment of that college expense on your taxes.
If you are the parent who would be seeking payment from the noncustodial parent, you can address this situation proactively through the use of a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. In such an agreement, you could set rules concerning how much money a noncustodial parent would be obligated to pay toward college for a child in the event of a divorce. Very often, marital agreements can act as a reliable rulebook in marriage, allowing couples to focus on their marriages rather than on potentially unresolved (and potentially marriage-disrupting) disputes.
As with the changes in custodial rights and practices, the change in the law regarding college tuition did not come out of the blue; it emerged from years of discussions about the state of that law. These discussions take place in the courtroom as well as in the court of public opinion.
If you are not familiar with the law on a given topic, you will want to consult with an experienced legal adviser. It is the job of every competent attorney to understand these legal trends and developments specifically for the purpose of offering you good legal advice as to how you should conduct your day-to-day activities.
The use of social media during and after a divorce, in particular, offers a fertile ground for complicated legal disputes. The posting of pictures of the children, the posting of vacation photos (both those vacations taken before the divorce and those that take place after), the disclosure of information online, texting and emailing about the marriage’s dissolution: These are only a few of the seemingly endless number of triggers involved in the use of social media relative to a divorcing couple.
As with the payment of college expenses by a noncustodial parent, you need not wait until you are embroiled in a divorce dispute to address these questions. Lawyers have developed new legal strategies and techniques to handle these problems before they arise, sometimes even preventing these social media problems from arising at all.
Lawyers around the country (not only in Alabama) can now offer you legal language capable of addressing the use of social media during and after a divorce. This language is commonly referred to as a digital privacy agreement. Where the use of social media forms a point of contention in a marriage, the proactive resolution of these matters by way of prenuptial or postnuptial agreement can eliminate an obstacle to a happy marriage. Lawyers can often incorporate this language into a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement for you. The language particularly addresses the use of social media to affect your divorce and its result.
As of yet, nobody knows exactly what the future holds for information that has been shared on social media. We already know that employers and other third parties are able to freely access much of that information (much of it personally sensitive information) even years after it has been posted.
As the Information Age and change, in general, continue to accelerate, digital privacy agreements may become more and more important. Married couples particularly committed to protecting their digital privacy both now and in the future should consider whether an effective agreement may help clear the way for a successful marriage.
This blog post should not be taken as official legal advice. If you need more information or you’re considering divorce, it’s best to speak with an experienced attorney, like Daniel H. Chambers, Attorney at Law, PC.
Attorney Daniel Chambers is respected in the Alabama legal community and takes pride in successfully negotiating favorable settlements for his clients because he never wants his clients to spend a dime more than necessary.
Mr. Chambers is also prepared to fight for you in the courtroom. He prepares every case as if it will head to trial because he wants to be ready to make the best possible arguments on your behalf at the negotiating table and in court.
We have used Daniel Chambers for legal services on several occasions since 2007 with excellent results. He has assisted our family in each matter with a professional yet tenacious manner. He has always been upfront about possible outcomes and honest about how to appropriately deal with challenging situations. I have recommended him several times over and will continue to do so. He has been an incredible asset to have on our legal team and we have always been satisfied with the results.
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