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COA: Mother justified in deciding not to work as doctor

May 31, 2016

In a child support case in which a man challenged the decision by his son’s mother to quit her job as a doctor to stay at home with her children, the Indiana Court of Appeals found she had just cause to do so based on the sons’ special needs.

Tracy Barber appealed the modification of the child support order entered in Kentucky regarding his son, S.B., born in 1999 while he was married to Amy Henry. Henry is now married to Dr. Dan Henry, and they have a son together. She also has a son from a prior marriage, and all three sons have special needs requiring therapy and services. S.B. and B.H, her youngest, have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Her middle son, C.R., has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

In 2014, S.B. pleaded guilty following an incident involving a family member of his father’s and was required under probation terms to not contact the victim or the victim’s family until they had received counseling. S.B. was also on house arrest for a time after the incident and could not be left alone with any children or his siblings.

Based on these terms, as well as the children’s constant therapy and doctor appointments, Henry cut down the hours she worked as a doctor until she decided she had to stay home to care for the children. Her husband also changed jobs, which meant a pay cut, in order to spend more hours with the family.

Henry sought a protective order after Barber contacted his son by text message before Barber had completed therapy services. That protective order later was withdrawn and the court only ruled on Henry’s request for reimbursement of half of S.B.’s legal expenses. The judge ruled Barber should pay Henry more than $14,000 in those expenses, and altered his child support obligation from $230 a month to $262 a week.

Barber claimed the trial court abused its discretion in calculating Henry’s income at minimum wage when she is a doctor but chooses to stay home with her children. But the judges in Tracy K. Barber v. Amy Henry, 87A01-1510-JP-1639, concluded she was unemployed for just cause and was not trying to skirt any child support obligations. Mother’s life revolves around her three minor sons and their therapy, and is focused on getting them the best care she can give them so they may each reach their full potential. It is not our function to ‘force parents to work to their full economic potential or make their career decisions based strictly upon the size of potential paychecks,’” Judge Patricia Riley wrote, quoting Matter of Paternity of Buehler, 576 N.E.2d at 1356 (Ind. Ct. App. 1991).

The judges found the Indiana court could order him to reimburse Henry for certain expenses related to S.B.’s criminal case, pointing out he agreed with the terms of the partial agreed order. But the judges ordered the case back to the trial court to recalculate how much Barber should pay. Henry submitted the amount of attorney fees of $14,018 but did not provide any details. The trial court should determine how much of that amount can be attributed to the protective order petition Henry originally filed.
 

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