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Judges disagree on applicable child support guideline

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Against the advice of their attorneys, a divorcing couple entered into a settlement agreement that included a “true up” provision for calculating child support each year. That provision is now at issue before the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Cortney Schwartz and Jodi Heeter entered into a marital settlement agreement in which the two agreed that Schwartz would pay Heeter $430 a week in child support. The agreement also contained the “true up” provision, which read: “At the conclusion of each calendar year, starting with 2009, the parties’ respective weekly child support obligation shall be adjusted and recalculated by taking the amount of their gross taxable income from their tax return(s) for that year, dividing it by 52 weeks, and using this amount at line 1 of the [Child Support Obligation Worksheet], with all other factors remaining the same for purposes of calculating the parties’ adjusted child support obligation.”

For the 2009 and 2010 years, Schwartz calculated his “true up” payment using the 2009 Child Support Guidelines and paid Heeter approximately $6,000 more a year. Heeter argued that Schwartz should have used the guideline that was applicable at the time he was paying, so for the 2010 year, he should have used the 2011 guidelines, resulting in an additional $44,000 or more.

The trial court ruled that Schwartz correctly paid for the 2009 year, but his “true up” payment for 2010 should have been based on the 2010 guidelines.

In Cortney L. Schwartz v. Jodi S. Heeter, 02A03-1109-DR-401, the Court of Appeals was divided over what guideline to use, focusing on the word “factors” in the agreement. The majority concluded that the 2009 guidelines should be used until a modification is made to the child support order, so the trial court was correct regarding the 2009 calculation, but erred on the 2010 calculation.

Judge Paul Mathias dissented on this point, finding the trial court’s determination to be the correct one. He believed the provision in the agreement meant that the other “factors” that will remain the same are the other variables that go into calculating the “true up” amount, not the child support obligation worksheet or formula itself.

The appellate court ruled that Heeter may not on remand seek rulings from the trial court on her prior motions for modification of Schwartz’s support obligation because she didn’t comply with Appellate Rule 46(A)(8), and it denied her request for appellate attorney fees.

The case was remanded for further proceedings.

 

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