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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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  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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