The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled on a matter of first impression today, analyzing a specific state statute relating to how a court can cancel child support arrearage after a man’s paternity is vacated based on new genetic testing.
In the case of In Re Paternity of D.L., C.L. v. Y.B., No. 88A01-1002-JP-224, the appellate panel unanimously reversed a decision by Washington Circuit Judge Robert Bennett involving a man’s paternity and child support arrangement for a child born in 1993 out of wedlock.
The mother, Y.B., had brought a paternity action against C.L. a few years after the child’s birth and he admitted to being the father, putting in motion the child support arrangement for both D.L. and a younger brother. They shared financial costs of raising both children and the mother maintained regular visitation, and eventually when there was some modification of custody and child support they agreed to genetic testing that determined C.L. wasn’t actually D.L.’s biological father.
At the time, D.L. owed about $9,000 in child support arrearage and he argued that the trial court should allow him to be relieved of that amount. The mother, represented by the prosecutor and ultimately the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, argued that this would constitute a retroactive modification of child support. The trial court declined to grant relief based on that.
On appeal, the state cited Indiana Code 31-16-16-6 that provides courts generally do not have authority to retroactively modify an obligor’s duty to pay a delinquent child support payment. But the appellate court disagreed with that being a fair characterization of D.L.’s request, and it instead looked to IC 31-14-11-23 – a statute that no Indiana appellate court has applied since its inception in 1994. That statute says a man’s child support obligation and any arrearage terminates if a court vacates his paternity based on fraud or mistake of fact.
Neither party cited that statute in this appeal, but the appellate panel found it clearly supports its determination to reverse the trial judge and terminate C.L.’s arrearage for D.L.
The appellate panel noted that the record in this case shows the trial judge was concerned about the parents “stumbling” across the new paternity findings, and that issue was one dealt with in a previous line of cases beginning with Fairrow v. Fairrow, 559 N.E. 2d 597, 600 (Ind. 1990). But that Fairrow ruling came down before the addition of IC 31-14-11-23 in 1994, and so it involves a different paternity issue than the one challenged here.
Since this decision doesn’t affect C.L.’s obligation to pay the child support arrearage relating to the younger brother, the appellate panel remanded the case so the trial court can calculate the amount C.L. owes there.