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Court affirms felony nonsupport of a dependent conviction

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A man claiming he proved he was unable to pay child support because of his numerous incarcerations did not convince the Indiana Court of Appeals. In its ruling today, the court relied on Becker v. Becker, 902 N.E.2d 818 (Ind. 2009), to affirm the man’s conviction of Class C felony nonsupport of a dependent child.

In George H. Culbertson v. State of Indiana, No. 63A01-1002-CR-68, George Culbertson appealed his felony conviction of nonsupport of his three daughters. Culbertson and Victoria Patton were divorced in October 1986 and she was awarded custody of their daughters. He was ordered in gross to pay $200 a month through the Pike County Clerk’s office beginning Oct. 15, 1986.

According to the Pike County Prosecutor’s Office, Culbertson paid $100 toward support in 1994; he made no other payments through the clerk’s office.

From October 1986 through July 2003, Patton periodically enrolled in and received assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The state charged him July 26, 2006, with felony nonsupport of a dependent child; Culbertson’s total arrearage determined by the court was $37,400.

Patton testified at trial that Culbertson worked in construction and often worked “‘under the table’ to avoid paying child support.” During his trial, all three daughters testified they’d dropped out of high school and eventually moved out of their mother’s home. They also testified that they each received $100 from Culbertson after their parents’ divorce.

Admitted into evidence were copies of case summaries showing Culbertson’s convictions and sentences under numerous cause numbers. He testified that from the time they were divorced until his trial, he had been incarcerated for a total of eight years.

The trial court in its ruling noted he was a skilled carpenter and had the skills to earn an income to pay the support, and yet he failed to prove his inability to pay support during times he was not incarcerated. He also had never petitioned for child support modification. He was sentenced to eight years, with two years suspended to probation.

The appellate court noted that even allowing for Culbertson’s periods in jail, he didn’t adequately establish an “inability to pay any child support.” He provided no evidence he did not have any income or means to earn an income during his freedom, and he did not establish a defense to nonsupport of a dependent, the court noted. He also presented no evidence that abating his support obligations during his incarcerations would have resulted in a child support arrearage of less than $15,000, which is a Class D felony. Like the trial court, the appeals panel noted that at no time did he seek to modify his child support obligation because of an inability to pay.

Culbertson also claimed the trial court abused its discretion in failing to reduce the support owed proportionally as each child became emancipated.

The court noted the dissolution decree ordered undivided child support and there was no abuse of discretion on the court’s calculation of support.

“Waiver notwithstanding, we find that Culbertson’s argument fails. ‘[W]hen a court enters an order in gross, that obligation similarly continues until the order is modified and/or set aside, or all the children are emancipated, or all of the children reach the age of twenty-one.’ Whited v. Whited, 859 N.E.2d 657, 661 (Ind. 2007),” wrote Judge Carr Darden.

Culbertson said he was entitled to retroactive modification of the child support and that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction of Class C felony nonsupport.

The Court of Appeals noted the Supreme Court’s rulings in Lambert v. Lambert, 861 N.E.2d 1176, 1177 (Ind. 2007), about calculating support based on actual income and assets available to an imprisoned parent, and Clark v. Clark, 902 N.E.2d 813 (Ind. 2009), which held incarceration may constitute a substantial change in circumstances justifying modification of an existing support obligation.

However, it was the Becker case that Judge Darden relied on: “Finding ‘[n]othing in Lambert or Clark suggests a contrary rule for modifications due to incarceration,’ the Becker-court held that ‘Lambert and Clark do not apply retroactively to modify child support orders already final, but only relate to petitions to modify child support granted after Lambert was decided.’ Id. at 820-21. Thus, a ‘trial court only has the discretion to make a modification of child support due to incarceration effective as of a date no earlier than the date of the petition to modify.’ Id. at 821.”

Because Culbertson never petitioned for a modification of his child support obligation, the appellate court ruled the trial court did not abuse its discretion.
 

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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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