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COA orders a new child support order

February 25, 2011

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the denial of a father’s petition to modify child support. The judges held he didn’t waive his argument for modification because he made a prima facie showing he qualified for a modification under one subsection of the statute, even though he argued before the trial court that he qualified based on the other subsection.

In Brian Holtzleiter v. Angela Holtzleiter, No. 48A02-1006-DR-736, Brian Holtzleiter sought to modify his child support obligation a little more than a year after the original obligation was entered. In his petition he claimed an ongoing and substantial change in circumstances, subsection (1) under Indiana Code Section 31-16-8-1. The trial court denied the petition, finding the changes in circumstances don’t render the current support order unreasonable.

The Court of Appeals agreed with Brian that he met his burden under subsection (2) of that statute. That subsection requires that the petition for modification be at least 12 months after the order requesting to be modified or revoked was issued, and that the party has been ordered to pay an amount that differs by more than 20 percent from the amount that would be ordered by applying the child support guidelines.

Brian submitted a child support worksheet that proposed his child support obligation should now be $178.89 a week due to a change in job with a lower salary and a remarriage and new child to take care of. His current obligation was $317 a week for his two children from his marriage with Angela.

The judges went against their colleagues’ decision in Hay v. Hay, 730 N.E.2d 787, 794 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000), and ruled Brian preserved his argument on appeal. Hay held that a father waived his argument that his obligation should be modified pursuant to subsection 2 because he failed to make that argument to the trial court. In the instant case, the judges believed the trial court and opposing party have been provided with sufficient notice that Brian called into play subsection (2) by submitting his child support worksheet showing his current obligation is 20 percent more than the amount he would be ordered to pay by applying the guidelines.

“Given the bright-line test set forth in subsection (2), we can discern no basis for punishing someone with a support order that otherwise statutorily qualifies for modification simply because the party failed to utter the magic words. The Guidelines are not meant to be a trap for the unwary but are intended to lead the way to a fair result in a complicated area of law,” wrote Judge Terry Crone.

After examining the evidence, the judges reversed the denial of his petition to modify and ordered on remand for the trial court to adjust the child support order accordingly. They also agreed that Brian’s $15,000 relocation bonus and the fact that Angela’s child care expenses have increased due to her employment outside of the home should be considered in determining his child support obligation.
 

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