The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that a domestic violence victim whose earnings since have increased may have to pay for supervised child-visitation services that the father is unable to afford.
The ruling in Glenn Hatmaker v. Betty Hatmaker, 49A05-1305-DR-253, reversed Marion Superior Judge David Dreyer’s denial of motions for unsupervised parenting time and modification of child support.
Glenn Hatmaker was convicted of battery against his wife, and the couple since has divorced. Neither parent was earning more than $1,200 per month at the time the father was ordered to pay $85 a week in support for the couple’s child.
The father was allowed supervised visitation but claimed he couldn’t afford to pay an agency that facilitated it. The mother testified earlier this year that she was afraid of the father, who was seeking unsupervised visitation.
The Court of Appeals held that because the mother’s income had significantly improved and the father’s had declined, his child support obligation should be reduced to about $22 a week according to guidelines. Also, the appeals court noted that the couple’s dissolution decree limiting the father to supervised visitation included no specific finding of endangerment of the child.
“(I)f unsupervised parenting time would pose a danger to a child, the parent is not entitled to dispense with supervision because of the costs associated with supervisory programs,” Judge Mark Bailey wrote for the panel that included Judges Cale Bradford and Melissa May.
“That said, however, our parenting-time statutes do not prohibit the trial court from exploring affordable options for low-income parents, such as grandparent, relative, or child advocate volunteer supervision. Moreover, it appears that Mother has much greater earnings than does Father and may be able to contribute to costs of supervision.”
“The order for supervised parenting time, modifiable upon agreement of the parties, is contrary to law,” the appeals panel ruled. “The trial court abused its discretion by refusing to modify Father’s child support obligation in the face of uncontroverted evidence that Mother’s income had increased substantially while Father’s income had decreased substantially.”