Shae v. Shae – Modification of Child Support Orders

While child support guidelines in Indiana were modified nearly five years ago in order to promote fairness in family law proceedings, many parents still find themselves battling a system that is either forcing them to pay more than they can reasonably afford or isn’t making the non-custodial parent pay what is necessary to provide for the child.

Our Gary child support lawyers know that family court judges have a fine line to walk in terms of balancing these interests. But making decisions in the best interest of the child is always the primary goal. So when mistakes are made, challenges must be mounted.

The case of Shae v. Shae, weighed recently by the North Dakota Supreme Court, provides an example of how the courts occasionally get it wrong the first time around, and why it can be beneficial to challenge such orders.

This case involves a wealthy man and woman who divorced in 2011, with one adult child, three minor children and various shared properties and accounts. When the husband’s incomes substantially increased the year after the divorce, the wife sought modification of child support, which was granted. However, the state supreme court later reversed on the basis that the calculation used was “clearly erroneous.”

When the couple first divorced, the court ordered the non-custodial husband to pay $2,200 monthly in child support, based on his annual $95,000 salary as an engineer. While the wife earned $125,000 annually, she was responsible for the upkeep of the children’s home, as well as payment for their various sporting activities and health care needs not covered by insurance.

However, less than two years later the wife sought modification of the agreement, based on her ex-spouse’s dramatic increase in income. He quit his job as an engineer to work full-time at a water-hauling company he started. The district court would later find he earned $2.4 million the previous year with his new company. Plus, he had sold a farm (which he retained in the divorce) for $2.9 million, though he later bought a replacement farm for $1.9 million.

The district court granted the mother’s petition for modification, finding it unfair that the wife was unable to provide lavish vacations and expensive gifts, as the father was, due to the fact that she was providing for their basic needs. Therefore, the court determined a deviation from standard child support guidelines was warranted. Based on the husband’s previous year monthly income of $116,600, the court ordered him to pay nearly $40,000 a month in child support, with the ruling being retroactive.

The husband appealed.

In weighing his claim, the high court cited the 1996 Kansas appellate court ruling in the Matter of the Marriage of Patterson, in which the panel indicated that children of high-income parents aren’t expected to live at a minimal level of comfort while the parent enjoys a life of luxury. However, child support payments aren’t intended to be a windfall, but rather adequate payments of support. In other words, upward deviations of support need to be justified by the evidence of what the children need.

The husband argued the district court erred in determining 34 percent of his income should be used for child support, rather than considering a host of other factors – most notably, that the figure was based on a single year of income from a start-up company of which the future may be uncertain.

The state supreme court agreed, ruling the district court failed to make sufficient findings regarding the children’s appropriate needs.

Therefore, the previous ruling was reversed and the case remanded for further consideration.

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:
Shae v. Shae, July 2014, North Dakota Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Termination of Parental Rights in Indiana, April 4, 2014, Gary Child Support Lawyer Blog

Contact Information