Bradley v. Murphy, 092316 ALCIV, 2150274

Docket Nº:2150274
Opinion Judge:DONALDSON, Judge.
Party Name:Julia M. Bradley v. Kevin D. Murphy Kevin D. Murphy v. Julia M. Bradley
Judge Panel:Thompson, P.J., and Pittman and Moore, JJ., concur. Thomas, J., concurs in the result, without writing.
Case Date:September 23, 2016
Court:Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

Julia M. Bradley

v.

Kevin D. Murphy

Kevin D. Murphy

v.

Julia M. Bradley

No. 2150274

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

September 23, 2016

Appeals from Baldwin Circuit Court (DR-10-901649.03)

DONALDSON, Judge.

Julia M. Bradley ("the mother") appeals, and Kevin D. Murphy ("the father") cross-appeals, from a judgment of the Baldwin Circuit Court ("the trial court") entered following a trial on the father's petition to modify the parties' divorce judgment. As to the mother's appeal, we reverse and remand; as to the father's cross-appeal, we affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

The mother and the father were divorced by a judgment entered by the trial court in March 2011. The parties had two minor children at the time of the divorce, D.M. and K.M ("the children"). The divorce judgment, which incorporated the parties' settlement agreement, among other things, granted the mother sole physical custody of the children and ordered the father to pay $3, 600 per month in child support. On June 6, 2014, the father filed a petition seeking, among other things, a modification of his child-support obligation and a modification of custody of the children. In the petition, the father asserted that his income had significantly decreased since the entry of the divorce judgment and that his child-support obligation had been erroneously calculated. The father also requested joint physical custody of the children. Additionally, the father filed a contempt motion, asserting that the mother had interfered with his visitation.

The trial court held a trial on the father's petition on April 23, 2015, at which both the father and the mother testified. The father testified that, at the time the divorce judgment was entered, he was living in Indonesia and working for a global oil company and that, when he was living in Indonesia, he returned to Alabama two to three times each year for three weeks at a time. The father testified that he changed his job assignment in December 2014 so that he could spend more time with the children. Under the arrangement in place at the time of the modification trial, the father alternated living in Alabama and Angola approximately every other month. The father also testified that the mother had prevented him from seeing the children on various occasions when he had returned to Alabama.

The father testified that, at the time the divorce judgment was entered in 2011, his monthly income was $38, 386. The father testified that, since then, his income had decreased to $27, 153 per month. The father testified that he paid $468.40 per month for health-insurance coverage. The father testified that the first time he saw the CS-42 child-support-guidelines form ("the CS-42 form") that had been prepared by the mother and filed in the trial court before the entry of the divorce judgment was when he was in his current attorney's office for consultation regarding the filing of the modification petition. At that time, the father learned that health-insurance costs in the amount of $240 had been added to, rather than deducted from, his child-support obligation on the CS-42 form, thereby, he says, causing a $480 calculation error.

The father stated that he had requested a custody modification so that he could exercise custody of the children each time he was in Alabama. The father testified that he would like to have a strong father-daughter relationship with both children. The father testified that he would be able to homeschool the children while they were in his care. The mother's testimony was brief and was directed toward the custody-modification request and the contempt motion. She testified that the reason she had not allowed the father to have visitation with the children on certain occasions was because the children are homeschooled and, she believed, the parties would be violating truancy laws if she allowed the children to have an undefined amount of time away from her home with the father. The mother testified that the father had previously opposed medical and psychiatric care for the children and that the children, on occasion, had exhibited signs of poor hygiene when returning to the mother after exercising visitation with the father.

At the conclusion of the modification trial, the trial court found the mother in contempt for preventing the father's visitation with the children on certain occasions and awarded $1, 000 in attorney's fees to the father as a sanction for the mother's contemptuous conduct.[1] The trial court declined to modify the custody provisions of the divorce judgment but stated that the father's parenting time would be increased. The trial court also explained in open court that it would not modify the father's child-support obligation but that it intended to "correct" what was described as a "calculation error" and give the father credit for that error: "I'm not going to modify the child support, per se, based on what the income level has been not just in 2011 to today, but over the course of the last four years, I understand that you voluntarily decided to reduce that income to spend time with them, and that is commendable, but because that was a voluntary reduction, I don't feel like the girls should necessarily suffer in other ways. And you chose and agreed to pay more than even the guidelines.

"Now, with your level of income, I don't believe that the amount that you're...

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