Action to Enforce Divorce Judgment Required New Filing Fee to Vest Jurisdiction

Six years after the parties were divorced, the wife filed a motion to amend a provision in the divorce judgment that awarded her a part of the husband’s retirement benefits. The Court of Civil Appeals deemed this an independent action to enforce the divorce judgment, which should have been accompanied by the appropriate filing fee. Because the wife did not pay that fee, the circuit court never obtained jurisdiction over her action, and the orders it had entered in the case were void. The Court of Civil Appeals dismissed the appeal and instructed the circuit court to vacate its relevant orders. Montgomery v. Montgomery, No. 2080400 (Ala. Civ. App. Oct. 30, 2009).

The parties were divorced in 1999. The divorce judgment awarded the wife a share in the husband’s retirement benefits. Six years later, the wife moved the circuit court to enter a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) regarding the retirement benefits. (The Court of Civil Appeals termed this order “QDRO-2,” as it was the second such order entered with respect to the parties’ divorce.) The circuit court entered QDRO-2 and with it modified the award of retirement benefits. The wife did not pay a filing fee for the proceedings that resulted in QDRO-2 and “apparently” did not notify the husband that she had sought the order.

More than two years later, the wife filed a motion to amend QDRO-2. The trial court “set aside” QDRO-2 and entered QDRO-3, which again modified the retirement-benefits award. The wife did not pay a filing fee for the motion that yielded QDRO-3.

The husband moved the circuit court to set aside QDRO-3, arguing that (among other things) the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to enter it, or to enter the earlier QDRO-2. The circuit court denied this motion and the husband appealed.

The Court of Civil Appeals first held “that a trial court has the inherent power to issue a QDRO subsequent to the entry of a divorce judgment in an effort to implement or enforce the judgment or to render the judgment effective.”

Nevertheless, the wife’s motions were “independent proceedings” to enforce the original divorce judgment. Consequently, the wife should have paid filing fees in connection with her motions to obtain and later modify the QDROs. She also had to provide the husband with proper notice of the proceedings. Because the wife did not pay the necessary filing fee, the circuit court never obtained jurisdiction over her “motions.” The orders entering QDRO-2 and QDRO-3 were therefore void. Void judgments do not support appeals. The appellate court dismissed the husband’s appeal and instructed the circuit court to vacate its relevant orders.