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Justices decline to apply dollar for dollar credit for Social Security retirement benefits

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The Indiana Supreme Court Thursday declined to revisit previous caselaw regarding crediting Social Security Retirement benefits to a noncustodial parent’s child support obligation. The justices affirmed the trial court’s decision to include the benefits in the custodial parent’s weekly adjusted income.

Eric and Gillian Johnson divorced in 1999 and have two children. Gillian Johnson has physical custody and they share legal custody. Eric Gillian had to pay $90 per week per child for support, maintain health insurance for the children, and the two agreed to each pay 50 percent of the uninsured health care expenses.

After Eric Johnson retired, his ex-wife added the two children to her work insurance policy. But the parties disagreed as to the amount of credit Gillian Johnson was owed in the child support calculation because of the cost to insure the two children. Complicating the matter is a third child she had with a different man outside of her marriage with Eric Johnson. She was on the family plan to insure everyone; Eric argued that she should be on the individual plus one plan and awarded a credit equal to the difference between that plan and the family plan - $26.75 per week. She claimed her credit should be $76.67 per week, two-thirds of the cost of insuring all three of the children.

He also received Social Security Retirement benefits and wanted to credit that amount against his child support obligation.

The trial court credited Eric Johnson for the children’s Social Security benefits by including them in his ex-wife’s weekly adjusted income; the court also gave her the health insurance credit of $76.67 per week, reducing Eric Johnson’s child support obligation by $12 per week.

The justices affirmed the trial court on these two matters, finding its approach to be appropriate in light of the flexibility afforded by the Indiana Child Support Guidelines.

“In sum, while we acknowledge that other trial courts might approach this issue differently, when the Guidelines do not explicitly dictate a bright-line procedure to be followed our standard of review is flexible enough to permit the trial court judge to fashion child support orders that are tailored to the circumstances of the particular case before them and consequently reflect their best judgment. Here the trial court fashioned a solution that it believed was equitable to the parties and we are not left with a firm conviction that a mistake was made by its doing so. We therefore affirm the trial court with respect to the credit Gillian received for her health insurance premium costs,” Justice Steven David wrote in Richard Eric Johnson v. Gillian Wheeler Johnson, 49S05-1303-DR-199.

The justices also rejected Eric Johnson’s argument that he should receive a dollar for dollar credit for his retirement benefits, effectively negating his child support obligation, because that is expressly prohibited by Stultz v. Stultz, 659 N.E.2d 125 (Ind. 1995), and Thompson v. Thompson, 868 N.E.2d 862, 865 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007).

“Essentially, he is asking us to revisit Stultz and hold that the entitlement owed to his children by the government should relieve him of his financial obligation to provide support. This we will not do,” David wrote.

The justices summarily affirmed the Indiana Court of Appeals as to the remaining issues in the case.

 

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  1. I'm going to court the beginning of Oct. 2015 to establish visitation and request my daughters visits while she is in jail. I raised my grandchild for the first two and half years. She was born out of wedlock and the father and his adopted mother wantwd her aborted, they went as far as sueing my daughter for abortion money back 5mo. After my grandchild was born. Now because of depression and drug abuse my daughter lost custody 2 and a half years ago. Everyting went wrong in court when i went for custody my lawyer was thrown out and a replacment could only stay 45 min. The judge would not allow a postponement. So the father won. Now he is aleinating me and my daughter. No matter the amount of time spent getting help for my daughter and her doing better he runs her in the ground to the point of suicide because he wants her to be in a relationship with him. It is a sick game of using my grandchild as a pawn to make my daughter suffer for not wanting to be with him. I became the intervener in the case when my daughter first got into trouble. Because of this they gave me her visitation. Im hoping to get it again there is questions of abuse on his part and I want to make sure my grandchild is doing alright. I really dont understand how the parents have rights to walk in and do whatever they want when the refuse to stand up and raise the child at first . Why should it take two and a half years to decide you want to raise your child.The father used me so he could finish college get a job and stop paying support by getting custody. Support he was paying my daughter that I never saw.

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