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Judges split on child support modification

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An Indiana Court of Appeals judge dissented from his colleagues, finding their decision regarding child support promotes “formalism over fairness and legalism over common sense.”

Timothy D. Sexton challenged the denial of his petition for emancipation regarding one of his three children and for modification of child support. After divorcing, Donna Sedlak was eventually given primary physical custody of their three children and Sexton was ordered to pay child support. In 2005, Sedlak filed a petition for modification of child support claiming the 2002 order was unreasonable and asked that it be discontinued. No action was ever taken on that petition.

In 2006, the parents executed a notarized custody and child support agreement, agreeing two children would live with Sexton and neither party would pay child support. This wasn’t ever filed with the court. A couple of years later, Sexton quit his job and collected unemployment.

The trial court held a hearing on Sexton’s petition for emancipation and child support modification and found his net arrearage to be more than $28,000 and modified his child support to $117 per week back to June 2009 for his two dependent children. By this time, one child was emancipated.

In Timothy D. Sexton v. Donna M. (Sexton) Sedlak, No. 49A04-1005-DR-330, the majority rejected Sexton’s argument that his modification of child support should have dated back to September 2005 when Sedlak filed her petition for modification of child support, or to 2006 when the parties notarized an agreement on custody and child support instead of June 2009 when he filed his petition for modification. His child support order was an order in gross, which is a specified sum of undivided support for several children. In support, the judges cited Whited v. Whited, 859 N.E.2d 657, 662 (Ind. 2007), which prohibits any reduction in child support obligation unless there were no children dependent on his support who were living with Sedlak.

Judge James Kirsch dissented on this point, believing the trial court erred in finding Sexton in contempt for nonpayment of support of more than $28,000.

“Prohibiting the retroactive modification of support, particularly of a support order in gross, has the potential to lead to absurd and unfair consequences, and our Supreme Court has recognized that doing so ‘may occasionally cause inequities,’” he wrote. “This case is one of such inequities.”

He believed the rule prohibiting retroactive modifications doesn’t apply because the parties sought such a modification in 2005. Although it declined to enter an agreed entry on Sedlak’s 2005 petition, the trial court never ruled upon the petition, which remains pending. Judge Kirsch believed the trial court should modify the support order retroactive to the date of Sedlak’s petition in September 2005.

The majority also affirmed the denial of Sexton’s request to emancipate his child T.S. They did find the trial court erred in determining his child support obligation without considering T.S.’s income. They reversed the child support obligation of $117 a week and remanded for the court to determine his obligation in light of T.S.’s income.

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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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