Gambler dad not in contempt over horse saddle dispute

A father ordered to purchase a horse for his daughter in a paternity order cannot be held in contempt for failing to first buy a saddle if he wasn’t held in contempt for failing to buy the horse, an appellate court held Friday.

In 2013, paternity of Julie Mapletoft’s minor daughter was established for the child’s father, Robert Bush. The decree ordered, among other things, that Bush pay $690 per week in child support and 84 percent of costs associated with his daughter’s extracurricular activities. The decree also directed Mapletoft to carry the child on her work-related health insurance policy.

Two years later, both parents filed verified motions for contempt and an agreed order was established, stating that the child’s 2015-2016 extracurricular activities would include horseback riding and gymnastics. Bush would pay all of the horseback riding fees and buy a horse and saddle for the child, while Mapletoft paid for gymnastics.

Bush, a self-employed professional gambler, is paid by the Illinois State Lottery an annuity in the gross amount of $423,000 per year, and Bush supplements that income with casino winnings. Between 2015 and 2017, Bush won substantial net amounts at casinos totaling more than $486,000.

In May 2016, Mapletoft moved to modify child support and the child’s medical health coverage, later filing a verified petition for rule to show cause asserting Bush was in contempt for failure to pay child support, failure to pay the child’s horseback riding fees, and failure to purchase a horse and saddle.

The Lake Superior Court held that Bush’s gambling income should be treated as regular income for the purpose of calculating his child support obligation; awarded Mapletoft credit for healthcare premiums; clarified the price range for purchasing a horse, and found Bush in contempt based on Mapletoft’s assertions.

The Indiana Court of Appeals first concluded that the Lake Superior Court didn’t abuse its discretion in calculating Bush’s gambling income, taking issue with his reliance on Meredith v. Meredith, 854 N.E.2d 942, 947 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006). The COA concluded that Bush’s earnings differed from the overtime earnings in Meredith, finding Bush to be a self-employed professional gambler.

“Thus, we cannot say the trial court abused its discretion in determining Father’s gross weekly income by averaging his gambling earnings and adding that amount to his annuity income,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the court.

It further found no abuse of discretion in crediting Mapletoft for the payment of healthcare premiums, or in clarifying that the parents needed to find a horse for their daughter between the $3,000 to $10,000 price range. Lastly, it agreed with finding Bush in contempt because the trial court’s order anticipated the parties would communicate and that Bush would pay his stated percentage for horseback riding lessons, or some other extracurricular activity, beyond 2016.

“However, the trial court puts the cart before the horse in finding Father in contempt for failing to purchase a saddle, because expert testimony indicates a saddle must be fitted to the horse and the parties have not yet agreed on a horse,” May wrote.  

“… These conclusions do not logically fit together. If Father is not in contempt for failing to purchase a horse, then he cannot be in contempt for failing to purchase a horse-specific accessory,” the panel concluded.

It therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded Paternity: Robert E. Bush v. Julie Mapletoft,18A-JP-02907 for further proceedings.

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