Court: father not responsible for late payment

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a trial court denial of a father's post-dissolution motion for rule to show cause why his ex-wife shouldn't be held in contempt, and remanded for the court to enter a new order.

In John L. Richardson v. Susan E. Hansrote, No. 72A01-0706-CV-288, Richardson appealed the trial court denial, raising three issues: whether the trial court erred when it determined he had a child-support arrearage; whether the error by the court clerk, who mistakenly applied Richardson's child support payment to another account, is attributable to Richardson; and whether the trial court erred in determining a child support obligation paid by income withholding is not paid until it's received in the clerk's office.

In the original divorce decree, Richardson was ordered to pay $168 per week to the Scott Superior Court clerk every Friday. The dissolution court also found Richardson to be in arrears, ordering him to pay $32 a week until the arrearage was paid in full; the court never mentioned how much he owed in arrears. Finally, the court allowed Richardson to claim the minor children on his taxes in odd-numbered years as long as he was current on his child-support payments. Hansrote was allowed to claim the children on her taxes in even-numbered years.

Three years later, the parties executed an agreed modification of the original decree, which lowered Richardson's payments to $142 per week, and allowed for the payments to be taken out by an income withholding order. Until the order took effect, he was required to continue to pay the clerk's office directly.

In early 2006, Hansrote told Richardson she was claming the children on her taxes for 2005 because the child-support payments were in arrears that year. Richardson discovered the clerk's office had credited two of his payments to another person's account. The clerk adjusted one payment because Richardson had a receipt, but he did not have one for the other payment. The second payment was credited to his account in February 2006.

Both parents filed their 2005 tax returns claiming the children, and the IRS ordered Richardson to file an amended return and imposed penalties against him.

In January 2007, Richardson filed a motion for rule to show cause to hold Hansrote in contempt for claiming the children on her taxes in an odd-numbered year. The court denied his motion, finding he was in arrears for $510.

The Court of Appeals found insufficient evidence to support the determination Richardson had accrued a child-support arrearage. The trial court relied on the clerk's records to show Richardson owed $510. In the original decree, Richardson was found to be in arrears, but at the hearing on Richardson's motion, both parties agreed there was no arrearage at the time of the decree.

Because the trial court never stated the amount of money owed in arrearage, it's impossible to determine how much Richardson would have owed as of Dec. 31, 2005. Relying on the clerk's record was an error by the trial court because the clerk is not responsible for calculating arrearages, just for maintaining a record of payments received, wrote Judge Edward Najam.

Also, Richardson should not be held accountable for the clerk's error in applying his payments to the wrong account. At the time he made the payments, Richardson was entitled to receive credit for them as if he had paid them directly to Hansrote.

Finally, the Court of Appeals found the trial court erred when it determined Richardson's last payment of the year through income withholding was late because it was not received by the clerk's office until Jan. 3, 2006. The last payment of 2005 was due Dec. 30; however, his employer did not send the payment by electronic funds transfer until the following week. Because New Year's Day fell on a Sunday, the office was closed Monday, Jan. 2. The appellate court determined that Richardson is not at fault for the one business day delay in the payment that was due Dec. 30, wrote Judge Najam.

The Court of Appeals remanded to the trial court to reconsider the arrearage issue and enter a new order on Richardson's motion for rule to show cause; the court should also revisit whether Hansrote was in contempt of the decree by claiming the children on her 2005 taxes.

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  1. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  2. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

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  4. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

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