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Indiana order doesn't modify Florida order

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The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed that a Vanderburgh Superior Court's order requiring a father to pay less than the full amount of a Florida support obligation, which allowed him to avoid incarceration, didn't impermissibly modify the foreign judgment.

In Suzanne Herbert Hamilton v. Richard Wayne Hamilton, No. 82S01-0904-CV-149, Suzanne Hamilton appealed the trial court's decision and affirmation by the Indiana Court of Appeals regarding the Vanderburgh Superior Court's order finding her ex-husband Richard Hamilton not to be in contempt because he met the conditions imposed by an earlier order from the Indiana court. Richard had relocated to Evansville following their divorce and was found in contempt by a Florida court for not fulfilling his child support obligations. Suzanne registered the Florida support judgment and contempt order in Indiana.

The Vanderburgh court found Richard to be in contempt but stayed his jail sentence upon his meeting certain conditions. The trial court later ruled he wasn't in contempt of the Indiana orders and explained that under the Federal Consumer Credit Protection Act, he already had the maximum amount of income withheld.

Using the Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Orders Act and the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, the Supreme Court upheld the decision that the trial court's orders were enforcement mechanisms, not modifications of the original Florida support order.

The trial court gave full faith and credit to the Florida order and didn't alter the amount, scope, or duration of Richard's nearly $1,500 a month obligation, wrote Justice Theodore Boehm. The arrearages also continued to accrue in accordance with the Florida order.

The trial court's orders are consistent with the UIFSA and the requirements of the Federal Constitution, he continued.

"We are obligated to give the Florida order the same effect it would receive in a Florida court. But we are directed to no principle of Florida law that mandates imprisonment for contempt for violation of a support order, or precludes orders that attempt to maximize compliance in light of realistic prospects of payment," he wrote.

The Supreme Court concluded it would be erroneous for the trial court to base its support-related contempt finding on the garnishment limitations imposed under the FCCPA. The record is sufficient to support the trial court's findings; however, the high court isn't sure if the findings were on the basis of the trial court's ruling or whether the trial court felt constrained by the FCCPA in reaching its decision, wrote Justice Boehm.

"Most of the trial court's order that is the basis of this appeal deals with the FCCPA, as opposed to the evidence and conditions at issue in the case. To the extent the trial court's ruling was based on the FCCPA garnishment limitations, it was predicated on an erroneous view of the law. We therefore remand to the trial court to render a contempt determination without reference or deference to the FCCPA," the justice wrote.

The Supreme Court also affirmed the denial of Richard's request for appellate attorney fees because the appeal isn't frivolous or vindictive.

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