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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. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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