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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. I can understand a 10 yr suspension for drinking and driving and not following the rules,but don't you think the people who compleate their sentences and are trying to be good people of their community,and are on the right path should be able to obtain a drivers license to do as they please.We as a state should encourage good behavior instead of saying well you did all your time but we can't give you a license come on.When is a persons time served than cause from where I'm standing,its still a punishment,when u can't have the freedom to go where ever you want to in car,truck ,motorcycle,maybe their should be better programs for people instead of just throwing them away like daily trash,then expecting them to change because they we in jail or prison for x amount of yrs.Everyone should look around because we all pay each others bills,and keep each other in business..better knowledge equals better community equals better people...just my 2 cents

  2. I was wondering about the 6 million put aside for common attorney fees?does that mean that if you are a plaintiff your attorney fees will be partially covered?

  3. I expressed my thought in the title, long as it was. I am shocked that there is ever immunity from accountability for ANY Government agency. That appears to violate every principle in the US Constitution, which exists to limit Government power and to ensure Government accountability. I don't know how many cases of legitimate child abuse exist, but in the few cases in which I knew the people involved, in every example an anonymous caller used DCS as their personal weapon to strike at innocent people over trivial disagreements that had no connection with any facts. Given that the system is vulnerable to abuse, and given the extreme harm any action by DCS causes to families, I would assume any degree of failure to comply with the smallest infraction of personal rights would result in mandatory review. Even one day of parent-child separation in the absence of reasonable cause for a felony arrest should result in severe penalties to those involved in the action. It appears to me, that like all bureaucracies, DCS is prone to interpret every case as legitimate. This is not an accusation against DCS. It is a statement about the nature of bureaucracies, and the need for ADDED scrutiny of all bureaucratic actions. Frankly, I question the constitutionality of bureaucracies in general, because their power is delegated, and therefore unaccountable. No Government action can be unaccountable if we want to avoid its eventual degeneration into irrelevance and lawlessness, and the law of the jungle. Our Constitution is the source of all Government power, and it is the contract that legitimizes all Government power. To the extent that its various protections against intrusion are set aside, so is the power afforded by that contract. Eventually overstepping the limits of power eliminates that power, as a law of nature. Even total tyranny eventually crumbles to nothing.

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