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Appellate court tackles child support issues

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In three opinions released Wednesday, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled on child support issues – the application of Social Security benefits to an arrearage and whether two fathers who were incarcerated for not paying child support could have their support obligations modified.

In Jonathon D. Douglas v. State of Indiana and Indiana Family & Social Services Admin., as Assignee of the Support Rights of Mechelle (Allen) McCrory, No. 40A01-1009-DR-466, and companion ruling Julie Nunley, n/k/a Waldrath v. Jeremy A. Nunley, No. 68A04-1105-DR-269, the judges rejected the state’s arguments that incarceration for nonsupport is a conscious decision to reduce income or that the courts should not follow Lambert v. Lambert, 861 N.E.2d 1176 (Ind. 2007), and Clark v. Clark, 902 N.E.2d 813, 817 (Ind. 2009), in reducing child support obligations of parents who are incarcerated for nonpayment.

The Indiana Supreme Court’s reasoning that reduction of child support obligations during incarceration serves the best interest of the child appears to apply regardless of the crime that led to the imprisonment, wrote Judge Paul Mathias in Douglas.

“While we share the frustration of the trial court and the frustration of greater, responsible, civil society with parents like Douglas, we are constrained to agree with Douglas’s reading of the applicable law, and we specifically decline to carve out an exception to our supreme court’s holdings in Lambert and Clark,” he wrote.

The appellate court reversed the Jennings Circuit Court’s denial of Jonathon Douglas’ petition to modify his child support obligation, and affirmed the Randolph Circuit Court’s order modifying Jeremy Nunley’s child support obligation. Both men were in prison for felony nonsupport of a dependent.

In Todd A. Anderson v. Shauna Anderson, No. 47A01-1104-DR-159, the appellate court had to interpret Indiana Child Support Guideline 3, which was silent on the issue of whether periodic Social Security Disability payments may be applied against a support arrearage that accumulated before the filing of a petition to modify support. The guideline was modified following Brown v. Brown, 849 N.E.2d 610 (Ind. 2006), and allowed for lump-sum SSD payments to be applied against a support arrearage that predated the filing of a petition to modify.

The judges speculated that the commentary to Guideline 3(G)(5) foreshadows that periodic SSD payments would be treated the same as lump-sum payments, wrote Judge Ezra Friedlander.

“The Commentary provides that SSD payments for the benefit of a dependent child are regarded as income of the disabled parent and shall be credited as payment toward the disabled parent’s support obligation,” he wrote. “… we can see no meaningful distinction between SSD periodic payments and SSD lump-sum payments paid for the benefit of a dependent child.”

The COA reversed the denial of Todd Anderson’s request to apply all of the periodic SSD payments received to date by Shauna Anderson on their child’s behalf against his existing support arrearage. The judges remanded with instructions to calculate the amount of those payments and adjust the arrearage accordingly.

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  1. Too many attorneys take their position as a license to intimidate and threaten non attorneys in person and by mail. Did find it ironic that a reader moved to comment twice on this article could not complete a paragraph without resorting to insulting name calling (rethuglican) as a substitute for reasoned discussion. Some people will never get the point this action should have made.

  2. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  3. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  4. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  5. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

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