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Court rules on inclusion of survivor benefits in child support obligation

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The Indiana Court of Appeals was faced with a situation not specifically addressed in the Child Support Guidelines and Commentary or in any Indiana case – whether Social Security survivor benefits paid to children due to the death of a custodial parent’s subsequent spouse are or should be included in the custodial parent’s weekly gross income.

In Fred N. Martinez v. Susan K. Deeter, No. 32A01-1108-DR-359, ex-spouses Fred Martinez and Susan Deeter appealed the trial court’s ruling on how much child support Martinez owed Deeter for 2007 and whether their children’s survivor benefits should be included in the calculation of Deeter’s weekly gross income for child support purposes.

Martinez and Deeter have three children, who lived with Deeter. She remarried and when her husband passed away, she and the two youngest children received survivor benefits in August 2007. Previously, they were receiving disability benefits, but could not receive both. That same year, the oldest child began living with Martinez.

The trial court included the children’s survivor benefits when determining how much child support Martinez owed.

On appeal, Martinez argued that the trial court erred in calculating the child support owed on his 2007 bonuses, by failing to adjust his effective tax rate and by making inconsistent findings. The Court of Appeals agreed, ordering the trial court to take another look at the matter. The trial court made conflicting findings that Martinez both owed $51,000 and he owed more than $7,200 in child support for 2007. The judges ordered the trial court recalculate his 2007 child support obligation and clarify the issue on remand whether the trial court intended to use his proposed adjusted tax rate.

Deeter argued on appeal that the court erred in using the survivor benefits from the children in her weekly gross income and in denying her request for attorney fees. The appellate court found different language in the guidelines and the commentary regarding survivor benefits – the guideline excludes “survivor benefits received by or for other children residing in either parent’s home” and the commentary excludes “survivor benefits paid to or for the benefit of their children.”

The COA found the language of both indicates that survivor benefits received by or for children aren’t includable in a parent’s weekly gross income. Inclusion of those benefits would result in a windfall to Martinez. This will require the trial court to recalculate the child support from 2007 through the present time.

The judges also ordered Deeter’s attorneys to provide clear authority to the trial courts, if any exists, to support the withholding of their attorney fees from Deeter’s child support judgment. The trial court ordered the child support judgment in her favor be paid first to her attorneys. The COA also directed the trial court on remand to recalculate the appropriate ratio of post-secondary education expenses to be paid by the parents.

 

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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