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Ex-wife not required to pay attorney fees under FDCPA

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A woman does not have to pay the attorney fees for her ex-husband after she sought more than $135,000 in owed child support after he failed to pay for 16 years, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled. The trial court ordered her to pay the fees under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Jill and Mark Finfrock divorced in Porter County in 1994. Mark Finfrock only paid child support for about seven months after the divorce because he lost his job.

Jill Finfrock didn’t attempt to collect on the owed support until 2011, when she used National Child Support, a child support-collection firm based in Ohio. By that time, the children were emancipated.

The exes agreed in December 2011 that Mark Finfrock owed $135,856.74, which was reduced to judgment. He would pay $280 each week to his ex-wife through an income withholding order.

Mark Finfrock has not missed a payment since, but Jill Finfrock sought a qualified domestic relations order to be attached to his 403(b) retirement account. The trial court initially signed the order, but later rejected Jill Finfrock’s request and ordered her to pay $1,645 in attorney fees to her ex-husband.

The attorney fee order was an error because the award was based on perceived violations of the FDCPA, the Court of Appeals decided in Jill Finfrock a/k/a Jill Bastone v. Mark Finfrock, 64A05-1209-DR-489.

“It is clear that an attorney who regularly engages in consumer debt collection activity, even when that activity consists of litigation, is a ‘debt collector’ as defined by the FDCPA,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote. “However, Mother appears to be correct that the FDCPA is not applicable to ‘debt’ that is the result of a child support arrearage, even if that arrearage has been reduced to a judgment.”

The judges affirmed the refusal by the trial court to issue a qualified domestic relations order attaching to Mark Finfrock’s retirement account. The parties agreed he would pay nearly half of his weekly income to erase the arrearage. In addition, it’s up to the discretion of the trial court whether his pension plan may be attached or garnished to satisfy the support arrearage.

The COA did not address Jill Finfrock’s claim on appeal that the court erred in ordering her ex-husband to pay his weekly payment to the Indiana State Central Collections Unit instead of National Child Support.

“The trial court did not actually alter Father’s income withholding order to direct that the payments go to INSCCU, and we need not consider whether the trial court erred in opining that Father’s income withholding order should be altered to comply with new federal rules,” Mathias wrote in remanding for further proceedings.

 

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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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