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Justices: Child support agreement must apply changing guidelines

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A father whose annual income included varying bonuses and commissions is obligated to provide child support payments in line with evolving guidelines, despite a support agreement made a year earlier than the rules were revised, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled.

Justices on Thursday affirmed a ruling of Allen Superior Judge Pro Tem Thomas Boyer in Courtney L. Schwartz v. Jodi S. Heeter, 02S03-1301-DR-18, which overturned a divided opinion of the Court of Appeals.

Justice Loretta Rush wrote that the mother and father made a commendable agreement in 2009 laying out the father’s child support obligations in which he would pay a fixed amount based on regular income plus a lump-sum annual amount calculated from the varying income from bonuses and commissions governed by a distribution clause in the agreement. The guidelines changed in 2010.

“We therefore face a question of contract interpretation: Does the Agreement incorporate the version of the Guidelines in effect at the time the Agreement was made, or the one in effect for each particular year’s income? The trial court interpreted the Agreement as incorporating the version that applied to a particular year’s income, and we agree,” Rush wrote in a unanimous opinion.

“Since the Guidelines are regularly amended to fit changing economic conditions, we hold that this Agreement anticipates and incorporates those future changes, because it does not specify otherwise.”

The change in Child Support Guidelines in 2010 resulted in the trial court ordering the father to pay an arrearage of $38,376 for 2010 income based on a “true up” clause in the agreement, but the majority of a Court of Appeals panel reversed that determination of the trial court. Dissenting COA Judge Paul Mathias would have affirmed the trial court as the justices did.

“The Court of Appeals majority found the parties intended for Father to use the 2009 Guidelines in perpetuity. In coming to this defensible conclusion, the majority determined the 2009 Guidelines and formula were “factors” the Distribution Clause required to stay the same. But in interpreting a contract, we should not look at particular words in isolation,” Rush wrote.

“We read the Distribution Clause as requiring Father to calculate each year’s child-support obligation by applying the version of the Guidelines applicable to that year’s income. The language and structure of the Distribution Clause, the regularly changing nature of the Guidelines, and the basic purpose of those periodic changes and of child support generally, all lead us to that conclusion,” the court concluded.

 
 

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  1. It is amazing how selectively courts can read cases and how two very similar factpatterns can result in quite different renderings. I cited this very same argument in Brown v. Bowman, lost. I guess it is panel, panel, panel when one is on appeal. Sad thing is, I had Sykes. Same argument, she went the opposite. Her Rooker-Feldman jurisprudence is now decidedly unintelligible.

  2. November, 2014, I was charged with OWI/Endangering a person. I was not given a Breathalyzer test and the arresting officer did not believe that alcohol was in any way involved. I was self-overmedicated with prescription medications. I was taken to local hospital for blood draw to be sent to State Tox Lab. My attorney gave me a cookie-cutter plea which amounts to an ALCOHOL-related charge. Totally unacceptable!! HOW can I get my TOX report from the state lab???

  3. My mother got temporary guardianship of my children in 2012. my husband and I got divorced 2015 the judge ordered me to have full custody of all my children. Does this mean the temporary guardianship is over? I'm confused because my divorce papers say I have custody and he gets visits and i get to claim the kids every year on my taxes. So just wondered since I have in black and white that I have custody if I can go get my kids from my moms and not go to jail?

  4. Someone off their meds? C'mon John, it is called the politics of Empire. Get with the program, will ya? How can we build one world under secularist ideals without breaking a few eggs? Of course, once it is fully built, is the American public who will feel the deadly grip of the velvet glove. One cannot lay down with dogs without getting fleas. The cup of wrath is nearly full, John Smith, nearly full. Oops, there I go, almost sounding as alarmist as Smith. Guess he and I both need to listen to this again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRnQ65J02XA

  5. Charles Rice was one of the greatest of the so-called great generation in America. I was privileged to count him among my mentors. He stood firm for Christ and Christ's Church in the Spirit of Thomas More, always quick to be a good servant of the King, but always God's first. I had Rice come speak to 700 in Fort Wayne as Obama took office. Rice was concerned that this rise of aggressive secularism and militant Islam were dual threats to Christendom,er, please forgive, I meant to say "Western Civilization". RIP Charlie. You are safe at home.

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