The Lawletter Vol 37 No 3
Courts in several states have interpreted their child support guidelines to allow an order that directs the custodial parent to pay support to the noncustodial parent under appropriate circumstances. Among these is the Supreme Court of Indiana. In Grant v. Hager, 868 N.E.2d 801 (Ind. 2007), that court, with two of the five justices dissenting, held that "there is a rebuttable presumption that a custodial parent is not required to make child support payments under these circumstances but that a trial court has authority to deviate from that presumption in accordance with the Indiana Child Support Rules and Guidelines." Id. at 802.
In Grant, the marriage of the parties was dissolved in 2003. The parents were granted joint legal custody of their two children, with the mother receiving primary physical custody, and, in accordance with the Indiana guidelines, the father was ordered to pay $108 in child support. Two years later, the father filed a petition to modify his support obligation. The father submitted a worksheet showing the mother's annual income of approximately $106,000 and the father's annual income of approximately $56,000; the mother earned 65.4% of the total combined income, and the father earned 34.6%.
The Indiana guidelines directed a total weekly child support obligation for both parents of $517. Calculating the support obligation of each parent in accordance with that parent's percentage of total income, the mother was responsible for $338, and the father for $179.
Under the guidelines, the father was entitled to a Parenting Time Credit in the amount of $216 based on the number of overnights the children spent with him during the year, and he was entitled to a credit of $55 for health insurance premiums paid by him. The total of the father's credits, $271, exceeded his $179 share of the weekly support by $92.
The trial court recognized that the mother was the primary custodial parent but concluded that the guidelines produced a "negative credit" that required modification of the existing support order. The trial court ordered the mother, the custodial parent, to pay child support to the father, the noncustodial parent, in the amount of $92 per week.
The mother appealed, arguing that "the Guidelines cannot result in a custodial parent paying support to the non-custodial parent." Id. at 802-03. The court of appeals agreed with the mother and reversed the child support award to the father. The Indiana Supreme Court granted review.
The supreme court agreed with the court of appeals that the guidelines did not authorize the payment of child support from a custodial to a noncustodial parent.
Rule 2 of the guidelines states a rebuttable presumption that the amount of the award that would result from application of the guidelines is the correct amount. Applying this presumption to the case before it, the court found that there was a rebuttable presumption that neither party owed support to the other. However, Rule 3 of the guidelines provides that if the court concludes that the amount of the award reached through application of the guidelines "would be unjust," the court "shall enter a written finding articulating the factual circumstances supporting that conclusion." Id. at 803.
The court concluded:
Given this deviation authority, a court could order a custodial parent to pay child support to a non-custodial parent based on their respective incomes and parenting time arrangements if the court had concluded that it would be unjust not to do so and the court had made the written finding mandated by Child. Supp. R. 3. The dissolution court's conclusion here may very well be supportable on this basis but the court did not make the required findings here, apparently believing instead that the Guidelines themselves authorized it to order Grant to pay child support to Hager. We remand this matter to the dissolution court for reconsideration in accordance with the principles enunciated in this decision.
Id. at 804.
The two dissenting justices were of the opinion that the trial court's award was authorized by the guidelines, and they would have affirmed the order of the trial court.