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High court expands Lambert decision

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The Indiana Supreme Court issued two opinions today dealing with incarceration being considered as a substantial change in circumstances to justify modifying a child support order and what date a modification may take place.

In Todd Allen Clark v. Michelle D. Clark, No. 35S05-0809-CV-506, the justices used the same reasoning it employed in Lambert v. Lambert, 861 N.E.2d 1176 (Ind. 2007), to justify modification of an existing child support obligation. Todd Clark went to prison after his original child support order had been instituted; he claimed he is unable to pay the $53 a week due to his incarceration. He filed a verified petition for abatement and/or modification order requesting it reduce, revoke, or abate his child support obligation until his release in 2013.

The trial court denied his petition and the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, holding his incarceration constituted a substantial change in circumstances that could justify a modification.

Lambert only addressed whether pre-incarceration income shouldn't be imputed to an imprisoned parent when setting an initial child support order, but today's ruling extends to petitions to modify support based on the incarceration of a parent.

In Gary Becker v. Heather Becker, No. 49S04-0903-CV-113, the justices determined the effective date of modifying an existing child support order because of incarceration may not take effect on a date earlier than the date on which the petition to modify is filed.

Gary Becker petitioned for divorce in 1997 while he was incarcerated. The trial court set his weekly child support obligation at $110. In 2002, he filed a petition to modify because he received only $16 a month in prison. The trial court denied his request.

Becker invoked Lambert to request another modification of his child support obligation in 2007. The trial court reduced it to $25 a week effective the date of the Lambert decision; Becker appealed, arguing it should have been reduced retroactively to the date of the divorce.

The Supreme Court ruled the modification of a support obligation may only relate back to the date the petition to modify was filed and not an earlier date.

"We now hold that Lambert and Clark do not apply retroactively to modify child support orders already final, but only relate to petitions to modify child support granted after Lambert was decided. A trial court only has the discretion to make a modification of child support due to incarceration effective as of a date no earlier than the date of the petition to modify," wrote Justice Frank Sullivan.

The high court vacated the trial court's abatement of Becker's obligation to the extent that it was ordered retroactive to the date of Lambert and remanded for further proceedings.

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  • child support
    in lambert v. lambert did this man have a job pryor to incaration? was he up to date on his child support oblagation?oy

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  1. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  2. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  3. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  4. I totally agree with John Smith.

  5. An idea that would harm the public good which is protected by licensing. Might as well abolish doctor and health care professions licensing too. Ridiculous. Unrealistic. Would open the floodgates of mischief and abuse. Even veteranarians are licensed. How has deregulation served the public good in banking, for example? Enough ideology already!

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