Bogner v. Bogner – Indiana Supreme Court Weighs Child Support Modification

When it comes to child support calculations in Indiana, state courts are given guidelines by which to adhere. These guidelines take into account a host of factors, ranging from employment, wages, computations for prior-born or subsequent-born children, costs for child health insurance and child health care, education expenses and other factors.
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But Ind. Child Supp. G. 3(F)(2) is clear: If the trial court finds support provided under the guidelines isn’t reasonable, just or appropriate, the court can deviate from those guidelines and administer an amount deemed more appropriate.

In the recent Indiana Supreme Court case of Bogner v. Bogner, the court once again underscored this point, with the justices noting the guidelines are not to be taken as “immutable, black letter law.” Rather, there are some circumstances in which flexibility is required.

In this Indiana child support case, father and mother divorced in 2007, and at that time, shared a 2-year-old child together. The court originally ordered father to pay $162 weekly. The following year, father petitioned court for a modification of payments. At that time, it was agreed he would pay $135 a week. During this time, mother and father alternated years under which they could claim the child as a dependent on tax returns.

Five years later, father again petitioned the court to reduce his child support payments. He sited his increased number of overnight visits with the child, as well as the decreased cost of child care, as the child would be starting kindergarten and no longer in daycare. He noted the child had her own bedroom and all of her own clothing at his home, and he and his new wife had moved in order to be closer to the child.

Per the applicable parenting time credit he received under state guidelines, his child support obligation would have fallen just below $60 a week, or slightly less than $240 a month.

The mother would not agree to this because, she argued, if support was reduced by this amount, she would not be able to properly support their child. She petitioned the court for a deviation from the recommended guidelines. She noted that based upon the recommended guidelines, father would only be contributing $3,070 annually toward his daughter’s care. Meanwhile, her yearly contribution was $6,240. Further, she indicated there was no reason for father to pay so little when he earned $1,240 weekly, while her income was $930 a week and she had the child for the majority of overnights and she covered $850 in uninsured medical expenses for the child, as well as costs for clothes, school books, supplies, clothing and personal care. She stated she needed more from the father to raise the child, especially if father continued claiming the child on tax returns.

The court agreed with mother’s arguments, and while it did lower father’s weekly payments to $105, it granted mother the right to claim the child annually on tax returns.

Father appealed. He argued the court’s findings didn’t support a deviation from the guidelines, nor the mother being allowed to claim the child for tax exemption purposes each year.

Appeals court reversed, but the Indiana Supreme Court backed the trial court’s findings. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in ruling that applying the full credits to which father was owed under the guidelines would create a hardship for mother. Further, the fact that a noncustodial parent spends extra time with a child should not be the basis for reducing support obligations. Instead, an increase in parenting time should be a benefit for everyone. But here, it would have left mother with a disparate amount of expenses despite a lesser income.

Thus, the trial court was justified in deviating from the guidelines in this case.

Indiana Family Law Attorney Burton A. Padove handles divorce and child custody matters throughout northern Indiana, including Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.

Additional Resources:
Bogner v. Bogner, April 28, 2015, Indiana Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Stacy M. v. Jason M. – No Termination of Child Support Without Termination of Rights, March 20, 2015, Northwest Indiana Divorce Lawyer Blog