Family Law Case Review 3/1/11

Case: Brian Holtzleiter v. Angela Holtzleiter

Case Summary by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham McHale LLP

HELD: A party who establishes satisfaction of the statutory bright-line test for child support modification (that is, at least one year has passed since support was last ordered, and a new support order would differ by at least 20% from the existing order) is entitled to modification. It is error for a trial court to deny the requested modification because of a conclusion that, despite satisfying the bright-line test, there was not a substantial and continuing change that made the order unreasonable, or because the party failed to specifically argue the 12-month/20% position.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

In 2008, Father and Mother divorced, with two children. Pursuant to the Decree, Father was ordered to pay child support of $317 per week. This was based upon Father’s gross income at the time of $89,239 and Mother imputed to minimum wage.

Over a year later, Father filed a petition to modify. In his petition, Father asserted that there had been a substantial and continuing change in circumstances that made the support order unreasonable. Father’s petition did not expressly reference the 12-month / 20% bright-line modification test set forth in Ind. Code 31-16-8-1.

At the parties’ hearing, Father introduced a worksheet indicating that his existing support obligation was 43.5% higher than it would be under a current application of the Guidelines, as since Decree Father had lost his job and taken a new job that paid $30k/yr less, and Mother had found employment since the Decree. However, the trial court denied Father’s petition to modify, concluding that, while there had been a change in circumstances, it did not render the existing support level unreasonable. Father appealed.

The Court of Appeals concluded that a petition to modify child support need not expressly plead satisfaction of the 12-month / 20% change criteria to be considered by the trial court. (On this point, the Court acknowledged that it was reaching a different conclusion than the 2000 Hay case, decided by another panel of the Court of Appeals.) Therefore, Father did not waive proceeding under this section of the statute. Since Father established the 12-month/20% criteria, a modification of Father’s support was appropriate. Thus, the trial court’s denial of Father’s petition to modify support was reversed, and remanded for further proceedings.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Brian Holtzleiter v. Angela Holtzleiter

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