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Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin - Winter 2013

Divorce Law G. R. Fernambucq and Heather Fann Ex Parte Bayliss: The Final Chapter? The “thicket of speculation” found in a 1991 decision referring to the 1987 decision in Bayliss has been bulldozed and left in a smoldering heap with the October 4, 2013 Alabama Supreme Court ruling in Christopher v. Christopher, 2013 Ala. Lexis 142. The decision is a total of seventyfour pages including the specially concurring opinion and the dissenting opinions. Those out there that do not have the time (or interest) to spend reading and reviewing the well-written decision can skip to page twenty-eight for the first sentence of the conclusion setting out the Court’s reasoning for effectively eliminating the Adult right to pursue college support for an adult child: “The Bayliss court failed to recognize the ordinary and common-law definitions of “child” as a minor, did not defer the legislature’s designation of the age of majority, and failed to observe the canon of construction that Courts cannot supply what a statute omits.” The Court of Civil Appeals, in its decision on the Christopher case dated December 21, 2012 (Ms. 2111039), urged the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision in Bayliss, suggesting that the decision violates the doctrine of separation of powers because it encroached on the core function of our legislature: the power to make laws. The Supreme Court stated that the statute which was relied on to set the standard for post-minority support (§30- 3-1, Ala. Code 1975), which refers to giving “the custody and education of the children of the marriage to either Father or Mother,” has remained “functionally unchanged from its origin in 1852,” and “neither defines ‘children’ nor designates when a child becomes an adult and thus ineligible for parental support.” Looking to the “plain and ordinary meaning” of statutory language, which the Court indicated “may often be found in a dictionary,” the Court consulted “a leading legal dictionary” (without saying which) in defining the parent-child relationship as “the association between an adult and a minor in the adult’s care . . . which imposes a high duty of care on the adult, including the duty to support, to rescue, to supervise and control, and to educate.” Pointing out that §30-3-1 also expressly addresses custody (“in the adult’s care”) and educational duty (perhaps a bit ironic in the overall context of the case), the Court found that the plain meaning of children as minors is “unambiguous,” and noted in a footnote that to read the phrase “children of the marriage” in the statute as not limited to minor children would produce the “absurd and unjust result that a court could assign custody of the adult children of a marriage to one of the divorcing parties, thus stripping the children of their adult status and reducing them to the status of minors subject by law to the direction and control of their parents” indefinitely.1 1 This may not be as absurd as the Court 18 Birmingham Bar Association


Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin - Winter 2013
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