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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. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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