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Court cites fishy documents in reversing support order

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A Marion Superior judge had no jurisdiction to enter a judgment against a father stating he owed $27,522 in support to his children’s mother, because Canadian court documents and other filings should not have been considered, the Court of Appeals ruled.

A couple married in Toronto in 1992 divorced in 2006, and the mother and children moved to Indiana in 2011. The father, who now lives in Georgia, unilaterally began paying substantially less child support, pursuant to the Indiana Child Support Guidelines.

In Joel Zivot v. Pamela London, 49A02-1207-DR-613, Pamela London sued, filing as evidence a certificate of divorce, separation agreement and handwritten minutes of settlement, and later claiming her ex-husband was in contempt. Marion Superior Judge Thomas Carroll in May entered an order and judgment on London’s verified petition for contempt. Joel Zivot was ordered to pay his ex-wife’s legal fees and 75 percent of the cost of his childern’s college education, in addition to the $27,522 judgment.

But Judge Edward Najam wrote that the court should not have acted in any manner with the documents presented as evidence. In reversing the lower court, he wrote for the panel, “We agree (with Zivot) that the trial court did not have before it a foreign support order subject to enforcement, nor could the trial court enforce child support based on written agreements between the parties where there is no evidence that such agreements had been approved by a court or incorporated into a court order.”

Najam wrote that the divorce certificate “was not signed by a judge, magistrate, or other official with authority to preside over dissolution proceedings. Rather, it was signed only by the clerk of the court in Ontario and is dated eleven months after the parties’ marriage was dissolved and ten months after the dissolution of marriage became effective. From the face of the document, we cannot conclude that the Certificate of Divorce is a judgment, decree, or order of a court. Thus, the trial court erred when it registered the Certificate of Divorce as an order from another state.

“The trial court lacked jurisdiction to enter an order enforcing Father’s child support obligations. The trial court did not have before it a child support order from another state, a prerequisite to enforcing a foreign support order … Thus, the trial court erred when it entered the Order enforcing Father’s child support obligations and ordering Father to pay attorney’s fees as a result,” Najam wrote.

 

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