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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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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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