ILNews

Inmates' child support orders can be modified

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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  In a decision that may affect child support modification orders, the Indiana Court of Appeals held today an earlier Indiana Supreme Court decision also applies to a request for a modification because of incarceration. In Todd Allen Clark v. Michelle D. Clark, No. 35A05-0801-CV-26, the appellate court used the Indiana Supreme Court's decision in Lambert v. Lambert, 861 N.E.2d 1176 (Ind. 2007), to determine whether Todd Clark's verified petition for abatement and/or modification of child support order should have been granted. 

In Lambert, the Supreme Court held that incarceration doesn't relieve a parent of his or her child support obligations, but a court should calculate the support based on the actual income or assets the parent has instead of pre-incarceration wages.

Clark was ordered to pay $53 a week in child support; however, after that order was issued, Clark became incarcerated and made less than $21 a month in his prison assignment job. Clark filed the verified petition, requesting the court reduce his child support obligation until he is released from prison because his incarceration has created a substantial change in circumstances that warrants the modification. Under Indiana Code Section 31-16-8-1, a modification may be made upon a showing of changed circumstances so substantial and continuing to make child support payment terms unreasonable. Even though caselaw holds that incarceration due to voluntary criminal conduct isn't a valid reason for abating or reducing an existing child support order, the Indiana Court of Appeals judges believed the Lambert decision has changed this precedent. "Although our supreme court limited Lambert specifically to the initial determination of a child support order, we now conclude that its rationale applies equally to a request for modification of a child support order based on changed circumstances due to incarceration," wrote Judge Patricia Riley. Even though the appellate court found changed circumstances, the court is aware that parents have an abiding duty to provide support for their dependent children, and as such, they held the support obligation of an incarcerated parent should be set in light of that person's actual earnings while in prison. Also using Lambert as a guide, the Court of Appeals adopted the practice of incorporating a prospective provision in child support orders involving incarcerated parents to automatically return the support obligation to the pre-incarcerated level upon the release of the parent, she wrote. As such, the court reversed the trial court denial of Todd's petition and remanded. Judge Margret Robb dissented, writing it was the Supreme Court's exclusive province to expand the parameters of Lambert to include the issue presented in this case.
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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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