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Dad who took son owes arrearage to mom

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The Indiana Court of Appeals split today in its decision of who should receive back child support payments from a father who kidnapped his son for 16 years before turning himself in when the son was 23 years old.

The majority in Mark E. Hicks v. Tammy L. (Hicks) Smith, No. 54A01-0904-CV-189, ruled Tammy Smith was entitled to the child support arrearage owed by her ex-husband, Mark Hicks. In 1992, Smith was granted sole custody of their 6-year-old son Brandon, with Hicks making weekly child support payments.

But Hicks never paid and instead kidnapped Brandon in March 1992 and disappeared until he surrendered to police in August 2008.

During the time he was gone, the trial court found Mark in contempt and found him in arrears totaling more than $7,000 in 1994. After he resurfaced, Smith filed a motion to collect on the 1994 judgment, plus the arrearage that had accrued since then. The trial court granted it and order he pay on the 1994 order up until Brandon's 21st birthday.

Hicks appealed the order, not because he doesn't think he should have to pay child support, but because he thinks the money should go to Brandon, not his ex-wife. He argued because Brandon had been in his sole care and custody during the 16 years they were missing, Smith would be unjustly enriched by an award of support arrearage.

The judges all noted the criminal charges pending against Hicks for taking his son, but said they had to focus on the family law case before them.

"If this was a typical case involving an arrearage - that is, if Mark had accrued an arrearage while Tammy had Brandon in her custody until he was emancipated - it would be easy to affirm the trial court's order awarding a judgment for the arrearage to Tammy," wrote Judge Margret Robb for the majority. "On the other hand, if Mark and Tammy had agreed that Mark would take custody of Brandon in lieu of paying child support despite the trial court's order otherwise, it would be easy to reverse the trial court's order. However, neither situation is presented by these facts."

The majority presumed that although Smith didn't provide support for Brandon while he was missing, she maintained a home for him and made decisions during that time based on the possibility he would return. The majority also found no authority for awarding the arrearage directly to Brandon, so based on the circumstances of the case, they upheld the lower court's ruling.

Judge Carr Darden dissented because he believed under the circumstances of the case, awarding the arrearage to Smith was an error. Smith didn't present any evidence of actual expenses she incurred during Brandon's absence. In addition, Hicks fed, clothed, and cared for Brandon while they were missing and "while it may not be proper to fully credit him for those expenses in the ultimate determination of his legal liability for child support, I find the order appealed to constitute an unwarranted windfall for Mother," he wrote.

Judge Darden would remand for a hearing on evidence of actual expenses by Smith or for further consideration of Hicks' argument that the owed child support should be given to Brandon in a trust.

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  1. The child support award is many times what the custodial parent earns, and exceeds the actual costs of providing for the children's needs. My fiance and I have agreed that if we divorce, that the children will be provided for using a shared checking account like this one(http://www.mediate.com/articles/if_they_can_do_parenting_plans.cfm) to avoid the hidden alimony in Indiana's child support guidelines.

  2. Fiat justitia ruat caelum is a Latin legal phrase, meaning "Let justice be done though the heavens fall." The maxim signifies the belief that justice must be realized regardless of consequences.

  3. Indiana up holds this behavior. the state police know they got it made.

  4. Additional Points: -Civility in the profession: Treating others with respect will not only move others to respect you, it will show a shared respect for the legal system we are all sworn to protect. When attorneys engage in unnecessary personal attacks, they lose the respect and favor of judges, jurors, the person being attacked, and others witnessing or reading the communication. It's not always easy to put anger aside, but if you don't, you will lose respect, credibility, cases, clients & jobs or job opportunities. -Read Rule 22 of the Admission & Discipline Rules. Capture that spirit and apply those principles in your daily work. -Strive to represent clients in a manner that communicates the importance you place on the legal matter you're privileged to handle for them. -There are good lawyers of all ages, but no one is perfect. Older lawyers can learn valuable skills from younger lawyers who tend to be more adept with new technologies that can improve work quality and speed. Older lawyers have already tackled more legal issues and worked through more of the problems encountered when representing clients on various types of legal matters. If there's mutual respect and a willingness to learn from each other, it will help make both attorneys better lawyers. -Erosion of the public trust in lawyers wears down public confidence in the rule of law. Always keep your duty to the profession in mind. -You can learn so much by asking questions & actively listening to instructions and advice from more experienced attorneys, regardless of how many years or decades you've each practiced law. Don't miss out on that chance.

  5. Agreed on 4th Amendment call - that was just bad policing that resulted in dismissal for repeat offender. What kind of parent names their boy "Kriston"?

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