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COA reverses denial of prisoner's petition

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the denial of an incarcerated man's petition for child support modification after determining the trial court incorrectly imputed his weekly gross income.

The appellate court often looked to the Indiana Supreme Court ruling in Lambert v. Lambert, 861 N.E.2d 1176 (Ind. 2007), to determine the trial court erred in denying Joshua March's pro se petition in the case In the Matter of the Guardianship of R.M.M., No. 09A02-0808-CV-725.

March was incarcerated when guardianship of his daughter, R.M.M., was awarded to her great-aunt and uncle. At the time guardianship was established, March and R.M.M.'s mother, who was also incarcerated, were ordered to pay $15 in child support weekly. Later, the great-aunt and uncle petitioned to modify the order, arguing that Indiana's Child Support Guidelines require a total obligation based on an assumed federal minimum wage. The trial court modified the child support order so that March had to pay $67 per week and determined his weekly gross income while incarcerated was $210.

In his appeal, March argued the child support order was inconsistent with Lambert and Indiana law, and that he only made $6 a month.

The Court of Appeals looked to Lambert for guidance on the instant case, even though the circumstances of the cases differ. That case involved a question of whether incarceration justified reducing an existing support order; March had been incarcerated the entire time of the modifications to his support order.

March argued that Lambert mandates that an incarcerated parent's income shouldn't be imputed to minimum wage if the parent isn't actually making a 40-hour minimum wage income. While Lambert doesn't expressly say that, March may have a point, wrote Judge Michael Barnes, given that the Commentary to the Guidelines indicates the guidelines don't establish a minimum support obligation. The Lambert ruling only cautioned trial courts from imputing income based on "pre-incarceration wages" or "other employment-related income."

Another Court of Appeals panel ruled on this issue in Clark v. Clark, 887 N.E.2d 1021, 1051, (Ind. Ct. App. 2008), - which has been transferred to the Supreme Court - in which the panel ruled minimum wage shouldn't be interpreted as a cut-off amount for child support payments.

The error in the instant case is that the trial court didn't base its calculation of March's support on actual income or assets available to him, as is instructed in Lambert, wrote Judge Barnes.

The Court of Appeals remanded for further fact-finding proceedings regarding March's current actual earnings and assets with modification of his child support order obligation in line with those findings, and any modification would be retroactive to the date he filed his petition.

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  2. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  3. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  4. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  5. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

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