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Indiana Supreme Court: Court Addresses Family Law Issues
Posted in Litigation

The Indiana Supreme Court issued three opinions last week.

In Rovai v. Rovai, the Court addressed a recurring situation in which a trial court awards one divorcing spouse the marital residence, but requires that spouse to pay the other a share of its value at some later date.  In this case, the trial court reduced such a decree to a judgment, specifying that the judgment was to be paid without interest.

The issue on appeal in Rovai was whether the post-judgment interest statute, Indiana Code section 24-4.6-1-101, required that the trial court to assess interest on the payment to be made by the wife who received the house.  The Indiana Supreme Court reconciled the post-judgment interest statute with the dissolution statutes, which call for a “just” division of property, by holding that whether to award interest as part of its dissolution decree is within the discretion of the trial court.  Rather than compelling an award of interest in such decrees, the Court held that “the dissolution statutes confer upon trial courts the authority to order interest or not in the course of fashioning a just and reasonable division of property.”

In a second family law case, Basileh v. Alghusain, the Indiana Supreme Court addressed “the interplay between the [federal] Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Orders Act and the [Indiana] Uniform Family Support Act.”  The marriage in Basileh had been dissolved in Indiana in 2002 and the parents were assigned joint legal custody, with the children to reside with their mother in California.  In 2004, the continuing relationship between the parties soured, and the mother sought transfer of jurisdiction over the case to California.  After some wrangling between the California and Indiana courts, jurisdiction over all issues – including child support – was transferred to California.  The father appealed that transfer.

The issue on transfer in Basileh concerned the Indiana Court of Appeals’ determination that the trial court properly ceded jurisdiction of child support issues to the California court pursuant to the federal Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Orders Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1738B.  Pursuant to that Act, a state trial court that enters a support order has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction unless the child or parties to the order are no longer residents of that state.  The Court of Appeals concluded that this language pre-empted what would, in its opinion, have been a different result by applying the Indiana Uniform Family Support Act, Ind. Code § 31-18-2-5(a), which also includes a requirement of written consent by both parties in order to transfer jurisdiction.  On transfer, the Indiana Supreme Court noted the discrepancy, but concluded that the two Acts could be reconciled by assuming that the Indiana legislature’s intent in enacting the Uniform Act was to make the parties’ joint consent an alternative method of transferring jurisdiction, not a prerequisite to transferring jurisdiction.

Finally, in Wagner v. Yates, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed a trial court’s summary judgment determination that an insurance policy included set-off and anti-stacking provisions.  The Court concluded that the policy provisions at issue were ambiguous, and therefore should be construed against the insurer.

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