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Inconsistency by trial court leads to partial reversal

June 3, 2015

Because a trial court hearing a child support matter at first declined to impute the income of the stepfather to the child’s mother, but later treated their income as the same when it came to the cost of her child’s health insurance, the Indiana Court of Appeals partially reversed a Hamilton Superior Court’s 2014 ruling.

Francis M. Laux, a self-employed chiropractor, appealed the order on ex-wife Pauletta Ferry’s petition to modify his child support obligation. When the two divorced in 1999, Laux paid $1,000 a month in child support. In August 2013, Ferry sought modification of his obligation, providing evidence that in the four-year period preceding the hearing, Laux’s income averaged nearly $6,100 a week and at the time of the hearing, his average weekly income was close to $5,000. Ferry’s income declined during that period from nearly $3,000 per week to about $500 week. She was a real estate agent.

Ferry’s husband pays for the health insurance of her child with Laux. The trial court ordered Laux’s child support obligation increased to $443 a week, that he owed an increased amount retroactive to when Ferry first petitioned in 2013, and that she was to continue providing health insurance.

In Francis M. Laux v. Pauletta Leann (Laux) Ferry, 29A02-1410-DR-719, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court in all aspects except with regards to the health insurance. The trial court erroneously credited Ferry for the child’s health insurance payments that her husband makes directly from his paycheck. On all other matters, the trial court declined to impute stepfather’s income to Ferry.

“We have … found … that it was not erroneous for the trial court to decline to impute Stepfather’s income to Mother. In other words, it was not erroneous for the trial court to treat Stepfather and Mother as separate financial entities,” Judge John Baker wrote. “But the trial court then changed course and elected to treat Stepfather and Mother as the same, or coexistent, financial entities for the purpose of the cost of Child’s health insurance. We do not believe that this inconsistency can stand.”

The matter was remanded for the trial court to recalculate Ferry’s income with no credit for the child’s health insurance, Laux’s child support obligation given the adjustment to mother’s income, and his retroactive child support owed given the adjustment to his child support obligation.

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