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Dad not in contempt for failure to pay full support

October 29, 2008

The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed a man was not in contempt for failing to pay child support ordered by a Florida court even though the Indiana trial court enforced his obligation for less than the amount ordered in Florida.

Suzanne Hamilton appealed the Indiana trial court order in In Re the Marriage of: Suzanne Hebert Hamilton v. Richard Wayne Hamilton, No. 82A01-0804-CV-151, arguing the trial court effectively modified the Florida support order by requiring Richard Hamilton to only pay $150 a week instead of the nearly $1,500 a month as required under the Florida court order. She also believed the trial court erred by not finding Richard in contempt and requiring him to serve jail time.

Under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, Florida maintains exclusive jurisdiction to modify the Hamiltons' support order, wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik, with Indiana only able to enforce the order as the responding state. The Indiana trial court had discretion under the act to craft an enforcement mechanism to encourage Richard, who had relocated to Evansville after the divorce, to comply with the Florida order. The act also allows Indiana to determine the manner of compliance with the order.

The decision by the Indiana trial court to allow Richard to pay Suzanne $1,000, find full-time employment, and give Suzanne $150 a week or else he would be ordered to serve the 170-day sentence ordered by the Florida court, is a permissible enforcement order, wrote Judge Vaidik. The Indiana trial court didn't suspend Richard's monthly child support obligation, and every month he doesn't pay the full amount, his arrearage will grow. Also, after hearing evidence of Richard's employment and other circumstances, the trial court required him to pay the purge amount, find a job, and execute a wage assignment.

The Indiana trial court was correct in not finding Richard in contempt for failing to pay his full child support obligation and sometimes missing the required $150 payments to Suzanne, because the record shows Richard did everything required by the Indiana trial court to avoid being found in contempt, wrote Judge Vaidik.

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