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Leaving Job to Attend School Full-Time Does Not Necessarily Allow for a Reduction in Child Support
Posted in Estate Planning

The Indiana Court of Appeals found that a father who voluntarily left employment to become a full time student is still liable for child support payments in the amount determined when he was employed. In the case of J.M. v. D.A., the parents of two children divorced in 2003, and the father was ordered to pay child support. In 2008, the father petitioned to modify his child support payment amount. Previously, he had been earning $13 per hour, plus bonuses, at Tyson Foods. Evidence was presented that he was fired by Tyson for abandoning his job. After leaving Tyson, the father became a full-time student at Ivy Tech. Meanwhile, as his petition to modify was pending, contempt petitions were filed against him on the mother’s behalf for non-payment of child support.   After a hearing, the trial court denied the father's request to modify his payment amount and, further, found him in contempt for non-payment of child support. He appealed. The Court of Appeals provided an extended discussion of the issue of voluntary underemployment and imputation of income in child support calculations. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals concluded that the father's efforts to go back to school full-time, while admirable, were not responsible in light of having children to support. He had two children with the mother in this case, plus two additional subsequent children. Next, the Court reviewed the contempt finding. The Court noted that contempt for non-payment of child support is proper only upon a two-part finding: (1)   that the delinquency was the result of a willful failure by the parent to comply with the support order, and (2)   that the parent had the financial ability to comply. In this case, the trial court made no finding concerning the father's ability to comply. Further, the Court of Appeals concluded that the record did not support such a finding, because there was no evidence presented at the hearing that the father had the means to pay support at any of the periods he did not pay. As such, the trial court's finding of contempt against the father was reversed. Judge Bradford, dissenting, would have affirmed the trial court's contempt finding, noting that Father did not dispute that he was aware of his ongoing child support obligation, yet chose to go to school full-time instead of working and supporting his children.

To learn more about Michael Kohlhaas and his practice, please visit his profile.

  • Partner

    Mike is a partner in Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP’s Estate Planning Department. The Estate Planning Department seamlessly coordinates and executes a wide array of legal services that cater to the unique needs of high ...

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