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Justices: Child support agreement must apply changing guidelines

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A father whose annual income included varying bonuses and commissions is obligated to provide child support payments in line with evolving guidelines, despite a support agreement made a year earlier than the rules were revised, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled.

Justices on Thursday affirmed a ruling of Allen Superior Judge Pro Tem Thomas Boyer in Courtney L. Schwartz v. Jodi S. Heeter, 02S03-1301-DR-18, which overturned a divided opinion of the Court of Appeals.

Justice Loretta Rush wrote that the mother and father made a commendable agreement in 2009 laying out the father’s child support obligations in which he would pay a fixed amount based on regular income plus a lump-sum annual amount calculated from the varying income from bonuses and commissions governed by a distribution clause in the agreement. The guidelines changed in 2010.

“We therefore face a question of contract interpretation: Does the Agreement incorporate the version of the Guidelines in effect at the time the Agreement was made, or the one in effect for each particular year’s income? The trial court interpreted the Agreement as incorporating the version that applied to a particular year’s income, and we agree,” Rush wrote in a unanimous opinion.

“Since the Guidelines are regularly amended to fit changing economic conditions, we hold that this Agreement anticipates and incorporates those future changes, because it does not specify otherwise.”

The change in Child Support Guidelines in 2010 resulted in the trial court ordering the father to pay an arrearage of $38,376 for 2010 income based on a “true up” clause in the agreement, but the majority of a Court of Appeals panel reversed that determination of the trial court. Dissenting COA Judge Paul Mathias would have affirmed the trial court as the justices did.

“The Court of Appeals majority found the parties intended for Father to use the 2009 Guidelines in perpetuity. In coming to this defensible conclusion, the majority determined the 2009 Guidelines and formula were “factors” the Distribution Clause required to stay the same. But in interpreting a contract, we should not look at particular words in isolation,” Rush wrote.

“We read the Distribution Clause as requiring Father to calculate each year’s child-support obligation by applying the version of the Guidelines applicable to that year’s income. The language and structure of the Distribution Clause, the regularly changing nature of the Guidelines, and the basic purpose of those periodic changes and of child support generally, all lead us to that conclusion,” the court concluded.

 
 

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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