Family Case Review: Anderson v. Anderson

Case: Todd A. Anderson v. Shauna Anderson

 Case Summary – by Mike Kohlhaas 

HELD: When a child receives Social Security disability benefits arising from the disability of a child support obligor parent, that parent is entitled to a credit for both lump sum and periodic monthly SSD payments received by the child, even if the payments are received prior to the date a petition to modify support is filed.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

Father and Mother divorced in 1995, with one child. Father was ordered to pay child support to Mother of $25 per week. In 2001, Father became disabled and applied for Social Security disability benefits (“SSD”), and several months thereafter he began receiving $771 per month in SSD benefits. When Father’s benefits were granted, Mother received (on Child’s behalf) an initial $240 lump sum of benefits, plus $68 per month thereafter. In late 2010, Father filed a “Petition to Modify Support Obligation and Apply Credit.” As of that filing, Mother had received on Child’s behalf SSD benefits totaling approximately $9,314.

Following a hearing, the trial court modified Father’s support obligation down to $19 per week, and determined that Father had a child support arrearage of $12,838 — a calculation that credited Father with the $240 lump sum SSD benefit received by Mother in 2001, but not crediting Father with any of the monthly SSD payments Mother received thereafter. Father appealed the trial court’s denial of the credit for the periodic SSD payments.

The Court of Appeals began its review with the 2006 Brown case. There, the Indiana Supreme Court held that “lump-sum payments of retroactive Social Security disability benefits to children cannot be credited against child support arrearages that are accumulated before the noncustodial parent has filed a petition to modify based on the disability.”  Effective with the 2010 amendments to the Guidelines, the revised Guidelines codified the central holding of Brown by providing that SSD payments may be credited against a non-custodial parent’s support obligation. However, the Amendments went further and effectively overruled part of Brown by also providing that “[a] lump sum payment of retroactive Social Security Disability benefits shall be applied as a credit against an existing child support arrearage if the custodial parent, as representative payee, received a lump sum retroactive payment, without the requirement of a filing of a Petition to Modify Child Support.” Child Supp. G. 3(G)(5)(b)(1).

Notably, the amendment was silent on whether and how periodic SSD payments — rather than a lump-sum SSD payment — could be applied retroactively to a noncustodial parent’s support arrearage. In an extensive analysis, the Court of Appeals concluded that there could be no reasonable basis for treating periodic SSD payments differently from lump-sum SSD payments, since lump-sum SSD payments are nothing more than an aggregation of accrued periodic SSD payments. “Thus, we conclude there is no principled reason to treat periodic SSD payments to a child differently than lump-sum SSD benefit payments, i.e., it ‘shall be applied as a credit to an existing child support arrearage’ without the need to file a petition for modification.”

The trial court’s order was reversed and remanded to calculate the total periodic SSD payments received by Mother, and to credit those, along with the SSD lump sum payment the trial court did credit, against Father’s arrearage.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Todd A. Anderson v. Shauna Anderson

Leave a Reply