When can a Child Support Order be modified? A recent case update by the Indiana Supreme Court.

On December 16, 2014, the Indiana Supreme Court released its opinion in Rolley v. Rolley. This case addresses the interplay between the two subsections of Indiana Code 31-16-8-1 (which provide the statutory bases for the modification of child support orders) and the modification of child support orders that were entered pursuant to the terms of a settlement agreement. Essentially, the case concludes that agreed-upon support orders are subject to later modification under either subsection of the statute.

By statute, a Court can modify a prior child support order only “(1) upon a showing of changed circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the terms unreasonable; or (2) upon a showing that: (A) a party has be ordered to pay an amount in child support that differs by more than twenty percent (20%) from the amount that would be ordered by applying the child support guidelines; and (B) the order requested to be modified or revoked was issued at least twelve (12) months before the petition requesting modification was filed.” I.C. 31-16-8-1 (1) & (2) (emphasis added).

The parties’ specific agreement in this case resulted in Father paying substantially less child support than he otherwise would have been ordered to pay pursuant to the Child Support Guidelines. Mother subsequently filed a petition to modify and increase Father’s support obligation citing both subsections of the statute in support of her request. The trial court granted Mother’s petition which had the effect of increasing Father’s support obligation from $350 per week to $1,419 per week. The trial court found “that modification was necessary because Father’s $350 payment requirements were ‘vastly’ less than the amount he owed Mother under the Child Support Guidelines.” Father appealed. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision, and the Indiana Supreme Court then granted transfer to consider the appeal.

Though it is clear under the circumstances that a party in Mother’s position could petition and obtain relief pursuant to subsection (1) of the statute, there existed a split of authority and conflicting precedent regarding whether modification could be had pursuant to subsection (2) of the statute when the existing support order had been entered by agreement of the parties. This was then the primary issue before the Indiana Supreme Court for resolution. The upshot is that the Indiana Supreme Court adopted the appellate court’s analysis and affirmed the lower court’s holding that the plain language of the statute creates two separate and independent grounds for modification, either of which is an appropriate basis for a subsequent modification request regardless of whether the initial order had been entered by agreement or otherwise.

The appellate court also noted an important factual distinction between the current case and the previous cases prohibiting modification pursuant to subsection (2) of the statute: those prior cases concerned parties “who had agreed to a higher amount of support than they would otherwise have paid pursuant to the Child Support Guidelines.” This obviously differs from the facts of the instant case wherein the parties had agreed to a lower amount of support than otherwise would have been ordered.

 

Authored by: Christopher J. Evans, ADLER TESNAR & WHALIN

For more information, please find the full opinions at http://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/12161401per.pdf & http://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/07221401rrp.pdf

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