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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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  3. I thought the purpose of the criminal justice center was to consolidate all the criminal services and get them out of downtown to clean up the place. Why in the HELL are the civil courts moving? What a burden to all the downtown law firms. Now we all get to work downtown, but then have to get in a car and COMMUTE to court? Who approved this idiocy?

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  5. I have had an ongoing custody case for 6 yrs. I should have been the sole legal custodial parent but was a victim of a vindictive ex and the system biasedly supported him. He is an alcoholic and doesn't even have a license for two yrs now after his 2nd DUI. Fast frwd 6 yrs later my kids are suffering poor nutritional health, psychological issues, failing in school, have NO MD and the GAL could care less, DCS doesn't care. The child isn't getting his ADHD med he needs and will not succeed in life living this way. NO one will HELP our family.I tried for over 6 yrs. The judge called me an idiot for not knowing how to enter evidence and the last hearing was 8 mths ago. That in itself is unjust! The kids want to be with their Mother! They are being alienated from her and fed lies by their Father! I was hit in a car accident 3 yrs ago and am declared handicapped myself. Poor poor way to treat the indigent in Indiana!

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