The Indiana Court of Appeals split Thursday over whether a father who was more than $100,000 behind in child support should be allowed to have his driving privileges reinstated.
In Denise A. Mertz a/k/a Denise A. Grimmer v. Robert G. Mertz, 64A03-1108-DR-360, Robert Mertz sought in 2010 to modify his child support obligation regarding his youngest daughter, J.M. At the time, Mertz had been found in contempt twice for not paying child support, jailed twice, and had criminal charges filed against him for not paying. His driving privileges were suspended in 2008 pursuant to Indiana Code 31-16-12-7 for not paying.
The trial court granted Mertz’s motion, citing that his income had dropped since 2005, when the last support order was entered. Imputing his income at $1,000 a week based on Mertz's employment skills and the economy, the judge ruled he was to pay $49 toward his current support and $62 to educational expenses, with the remaining amount toward his arrearages, which the judge said could be as much as $100,000. Mertz agreed to pay half of his income wages toward these amounts.
The judge also reinstated Mertz’s driver’s license because of his plan to pay back his owed support.
His ex-wife, Denise Grimmer, objected, arguing that Mertz has a history of hiding his income and his driving privileges shouldn’t be reinstated.
The appellate court has yet to look at I.C. 31-16-12-7 and -11, which deal with license suspension and reinstatement for failure to pay child support. Section 11 says the court may stay the suspension if the person pays the child support arrearage in full; or an income withholding order under I.C. 31-16-15 … is implemented and a payment plan to pay the arrearage is established.
Judges Nancy Vaidik and Edward Najam upheld the license reinstatement, pointing out the judge realized if Mertz is able to drive, he is more likely to meet his support obligations. His plan to pay one-half of his income toward his obligation was sufficient, they held.
Chief Judge Margret Robb dissented on this point, writing, “Given that the two alternatives for reinstatement are to pay in full or establish a payment plan to pay, the ‘plain, ordinary, and usual meaning’ of ‘a payment plan to pay the arrearage’ is a plan that will pay the arrearage in full, not simply pay toward or pay down the arrearage.”
Robb calculated that that statutory interest alone on $100,000 of arrearage would exceed $140 a week, and Mertz’s payment plan will barely make a dent in it.
If Mertz established a plan to pay the maximum amount allowed by law – 65 percent of his income – then she believes the trial court could have reinstated his driving privileges.
The judges unanimously upheld the decision to modify Mertz’s support obligation.