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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides Child Support Guidelines case

In James Bogner v. Teresa Bogner, an 18-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice David writes:

Teresa Bogner (Mother) and James Bogner (Father) were married and have one child, H.B. In 2007, when H.B. was just over two years old, the marriage was dissolved. Father was originally ordered to pay $162 per week in child support. In 2008, Father sought to modify his support obligation. The parties agreed under the Indiana Child Support Guidelines that Father’s support obligation would be reduced to $135 per week. In 2013, Father again filed to modify his support obligation given an increased number of overnights Father was having with H.B. and a decrease in childcare costs. Under the Guidelines, the applicable parenting time credit decreased Father’s support obligation to $59 per week. Mother sought a deviation from the amount recommended by the Guidelines. Mother argues that $59 per week is insufficient for her to continue supporting H.B. considering all of the attendant costs she incurs as the custodial parent.

A hearing was held, and the parties agreed to proceed in a summary fashion. After arguments of counsel, the Court entered findings that the support provided under the Guidelines was unreasonable and created a hardship on Mother. As such, the Court deviated upward from the recommended support, but still reduced Father’s previous support obligation to $105 per week. Upon Mother’s request, the Court also ordered that Mother would claim H.B. each year for the child dependency tax exemption, instead of alternating years with Father. Father appealed the trial court’s ordered modification. Father argued that the trial court erred in deviating from the Guidelines regarding the amount of weekly support and in awarding the yearly state and federal tax exemptions to Mother.

Under the Guidelines, after considering certain factors, if “the court finds that the Guideline amount is unjust or inappropriate in a particular case, the court may state a factual basis for the deviation and proceed to enter a support amount that is deemed appropriate.” Ind. Child Supp. G. 3(F)(2). The trial court stated on the record its finding that the support provided by the Guidelines was unreasonable, and included the basis for deviating from the Guideline amount.

This Court has continually advised trial courts that the Guidelines should not be treated as immutable, black letter law. Rather, some situations require greater flexibility. To the extent that Father challenges the form of the summary proceedings, that argument is waived because no objection to the nature of the proceedings was made at the time of the hearing. Moreover, the trial court did not clearly err during the summary proceeding when it relied upon the arguments of counsel and limited informal documentary evidence in reaching its findings and conclusions. As such, we affirm the trial court’s child support modification order. * * *

To summarize, for both of the ordered modifications, the trial court accepted informal exhibits and heard arguments on disputed issues. The trial court then acted accordingly by entering written findings based upon the information provided by the parties and explaining the basis for its deviation from the Guidelines. Once again, formal findings of fact and conclusions of law are not required by the Child Support Guidelines. The judge need only articulate his or her reasoning. This is exactly what the trial court did in this case. Thus, the modifications were not clear error.

Conclusion. Father waived his challenge to the form of the summary proceeding when he failed to make a contemporaneous objection to that procedure. Despite Father’s waiver, the trial court properly conducted a summary proceeding under the agreement of both parties, and the court was permitted to rely upon the arguments of counsel and limited informal documentary evidence when it entered its findings. The trial court did not commit clear error when it deviated from the Indiana Child Support Guidelines by not granting Father the full parenting time credit and permitted Mother to claim H.B. each year for the federal and state dependency tax exemption. We affirm the trial court’s child support modification order.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 28, 2015 02:49 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions