ILNews

Inmates' child support orders can be modified

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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  In a decision that may affect child support modification orders, the Indiana Court of Appeals held today an earlier Indiana Supreme Court decision also applies to a request for a modification because of incarceration. In Todd Allen Clark v. Michelle D. Clark, No. 35A05-0801-CV-26, the appellate court used the Indiana Supreme Court's decision in Lambert v. Lambert, 861 N.E.2d 1176 (Ind. 2007), to determine whether Todd Clark's verified petition for abatement and/or modification of child support order should have been granted. 

In Lambert, the Supreme Court held that incarceration doesn't relieve a parent of his or her child support obligations, but a court should calculate the support based on the actual income or assets the parent has instead of pre-incarceration wages.

Clark was ordered to pay $53 a week in child support; however, after that order was issued, Clark became incarcerated and made less than $21 a month in his prison assignment job. Clark filed the verified petition, requesting the court reduce his child support obligation until he is released from prison because his incarceration has created a substantial change in circumstances that warrants the modification. Under Indiana Code Section 31-16-8-1, a modification may be made upon a showing of changed circumstances so substantial and continuing to make child support payment terms unreasonable. Even though caselaw holds that incarceration due to voluntary criminal conduct isn't a valid reason for abating or reducing an existing child support order, the Indiana Court of Appeals judges believed the Lambert decision has changed this precedent. "Although our supreme court limited Lambert specifically to the initial determination of a child support order, we now conclude that its rationale applies equally to a request for modification of a child support order based on changed circumstances due to incarceration," wrote Judge Patricia Riley. Even though the appellate court found changed circumstances, the court is aware that parents have an abiding duty to provide support for their dependent children, and as such, they held the support obligation of an incarcerated parent should be set in light of that person's actual earnings while in prison. Also using Lambert as a guide, the Court of Appeals adopted the practice of incorporating a prospective provision in child support orders involving incarcerated parents to automatically return the support obligation to the pre-incarcerated level upon the release of the parent, she wrote. As such, the court reversed the trial court denial of Todd's petition and remanded. Judge Margret Robb dissented, writing it was the Supreme Court's exclusive province to expand the parameters of Lambert to include the issue presented in this case.
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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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