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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. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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