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COA upholds father’s $1,419 weekly child support obligation

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In affirming the trial court’s decision to increase a father’s weekly child support obligation to four times the amount he and his ex-wife initially agreed to, the Indiana Court of Appeals asked the Supreme Court to determine how Indiana Code 31-16-8-1 should be interpreted.

Mark and Melissa Rolley have one daughter from their marriage. They agreed during divorce proceedings that Mark Rolley would pay $350 a week, which was not based on the Child Support Guidelines but an amount they believed was fair. A year later, Melissa Rolley filed a petition to modify child support, claiming she learned after the agreement was entered into that Mark Rolley’s income was much greater than she had previously been told.

At the time of the petition, Melissa Rolley was a student and worked part-time, earning $290 a week. Mark Rolley owned Advanced Network Computer Services in Evansville and made more than $21,000 a week. The trial court granted her petition, ordering Mark Rolley to pay $1,419 a week. The court ordered the modification because the $350 payments were “vastly” less than the amount he owed under the Child Support Guidelines.

Mark Rolley appealed, arguing that his ex-wife invited the error of receiving less child support when she agreed to the terms under the settlement agreement and she was required to show there was a substantial change in circumstances justifying the modification.

The judges examined I.C. 31-16-8-1, which outlines two grounds for modification. Subsection 1 says upon a showing of a change in circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the terms unreasonable; or under Subsection 2, if 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 and the request to be modified was issued at least 12 months before the petition requesting modification was filed.

The judges examined caselaw involving modifications of child support ordered under support agreements and found differing results. Some have held that a petitioner must prove both subsection 1 and 2 in order to have an existing order modified; others have held that a support order based on a support agreement may be modified based on a showing of the grounds listed in subsection 2 alone.

“[D]ifferent panels of this Court have had conflicting interpretations of Indiana Code 31-16-8-1(b)(2), and we would like to draw our Supreme Court’s attention to this conflict for resolution. However, in light of the facts of this case and several general principles guiding issues of child support, we conclude that the Kraft Court’s interpretation is the most appropriate here,” Judge Rudolph Pyle III wrote in Mark Rolley v. Melissa Rolley, 87A01-1307-DR-330.

In Marriage of Kraft, 868 N.E.2d 1181 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), a panel held that the court should interpret I.C. 31-16-8-1 as it is written, regardless of whether the child support order has been entered through a settlement agreement and whether the agreement to pay child support is in excess of the guidelines. The judges Tuesday noted that the plain language of the statute does not create a distinct standard for modification of child support orders that are a result of agreements.

“The ‘or’ separating subsections (1) and (2) clearly indicates that the two subsections establish separate grounds for modification, and there is not any internal or subsequent language limiting the independence of those subsections,” Pyle wrote.

The judges also noted that the doctrine of invited error may be justifiable in instances when a parent has agreed to pay more than what the parent must pay, but it is not justifiable in instances – such as in the Rolley case – where a parent has agreed to pay less than required.

They upheld the $1,419 in weekly child support, rejecting Mark Rolley’s argument that the trial court abused its discretion by deciding not to consider Melissa Rolley’s mortgage-free house as imputed income. Despite her lack of mortgage, she still must pay other living expenses such as utilities, maintenance and taxes, and she makes only $290 a week, Pyle wrote.

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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