An orphan is a vulnerable child left without adequate familial provision and protection from evil. There is real evil in the world – evil that will always seek to abuse, neglect, and rob vulnerable children. Orphan Law is that body of law that relates to addressing and alleviating the affliction of these vulnerable children.
The only update on the table for this week is R.R.C. v. D.G.C., 2131047 (Ala. Civ. App. March 13, 2015), a unanimous opinion authored by Presiding Judge Thompson.
R.R.C. is the “former husband” and D.G.C. is the “former wife” and mother of C.R.C.. R.R.C. and C.R.C. were married at some undetermined point. During their marriage, C.R.C. was born to the mother. Now, notice what I didn’t say here: I didn’t say that “R.R.C. and C.R.C. had a child during their marriage.”
And that’s the whole point. In the judgment of divorce, R.R.C. was required to pay child support in the amount of $1,160.00 – no small amount. However, R.R.C. did not believe he was the biological father of C.R.C. So, R.R.C. asked the circuit court to reexamine the question of paternity.
However, I find it interesting to note that R.R.C. didn’t approach the circuit court with this question until two years after the divorce was finalized. That means that he paid $27,840.00 in child support before he took any legal action to challenge his paternity of C.R.C. Unfortunately, we don’t have the back story, but something smells fishy.
Whatever the reason for the two-year delay, when R.R.C. did come to the circuit court he came with a DNA test, which showed that the probability of R.R.C. being the biological father of C.R.C. was 0%.
Presiding Judge Thompson starts his analysis by reminding us of the rule that, “[a]lthough the divorce judgment made no express adjudication of paternity, a judgment ‘requiring a man to pay child support is an implicit determination of paternity.’”
R.R.C. brought his request to the circuit court on the basis of § 26-17A-1(a), Code of Alabama, which seems pretty straightforward – allowing R.R.C. the relief he requested. However, D.G.C. responded with a res judicata argument and asked the circuit court to dismiss.
Now, I have to say at this point that I am pretty impressed with the D.G.C.’s res judicata argument – which basically states that because the R.R.C. didn’t raise this issue in the divorce proceedings or appeal the divorce proceedings, he could not raise the issue at a later time. Apparently, the circuit liked the argument too and dismissed R.R.C.’s petition.
R.R.C., who was looking at a 16-year child support bill of $222,720.00 for a child who was conceived through D.G.C.’s adultery, took the sensible course and paid his attorney (some amount less than $222,720.00, I’m sure) to appeal the circuit court.
The Court of Civil Appeals (Civs) explains a few principles relating to res judicata that are worth mentioning here:
- An appeal from a determination based on res judicata is heard de novo.
- Alabama maintains two exceptions to the doctrine of res judicata:
- Rule 60(b)(6), and
- Section 26-17A-1, Code of Alabama, which of course is most pertinent to the case at hand.
The Civs reversed the trial court on its decision not to open the matter for a reexamination of paternity. The Civs said that R.R.C.’s LabCorp report showing him to have 0% probability of being C.R.C.’s father was sufficient evidence to reopen the case – and that res judicata should not bar the circuit court from further examining the matter.
An interesting issue to look for when this case comes back to the circuit court is whether R.R.C. will ask the circuit court to order D.G.C. to reimburse R.R.C. for the child support “wrongfully” paid – at least $27,840.00.
So, this seems like a good result for R.R.C., but a bad result for C.R.C., who now lacks both an actual and legal father. Our only hope for C.R.C. may be that he finds comfort from adoption into God’s family through the work of Christ: “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” Psalm 68:5.
Photo by libertygrace0.