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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. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  2. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  3. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  4. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  5. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

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