Family Law Case Review: Matter of Support of B.J.R. – Jurisdiction of Child Support Order

Case: In the Matter of the Support of B.J.R.: B.J.R., by next friend, R.J.C. v. C.J.R., Sr.
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll (with thanks to Tamara McMillian)

HELD: Indiana trial court had subject matter jurisdiction to modify Pennsylvania child support order, even though the Father’s initial filing in Indiana had various minor procedural defects (for example, a certified copy of the foreign order was not included with Father’s initial filing, but was later supplemented).

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
On February 12, 2000, a Pennsylvania child support order required Father to pay $1,500.00 per month in child support, $342.00 per month for daycare, and $70.00 per month for health insurance, for a total of $1912.00 per month. Mother and Father agreed to reduce Father’s monthly child support amount after the minor child was no longer in daycare. At the time of the 2000 foreign order, Father resided in Pennsylvania and Mother and Child resided in Georgia.

On September 14, 2010, Father filed a petition to register the foreign order in Marion County, Indiana. However, Father’s petition lacked a certified copy of the foreign order, incorrectly listed the venue, and failed to include Father’s employer information. At that time, Mother and Child resided in Marion County, Indiana and Father resided in Georgia. On September 15, 2010, Father filed a petition to modify his child support and alleged that there had been a significant and substantial change in circumstances which rendered the foreign order unreasonable. On August 20, 2011, Father filed an amended petition to register the foreign order and attached a copy of the foreign order.  The court registered Father’s foreign order as of August 20, 2011.

The trial court determined that Father’s August 11, 2011 filing was not an amended petition but a mere attempt to cure his initial filing defect. The trial court held it had subject matter jurisdiction. Further, the trial court granted Father’s motion to modify child support reducing his obligation to $214.00 per week retroactively to August 20, 2011. The Mother appealed.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s rulings. The Court of Appeals construed Indiana Code § 31-18-6-2 and determined that lack of certain missing or unknown information while registering a foreign child support order didn’t bar Father from registering his foreign decree. Father’s missing registration information resulted from scrivener’s error and was insignificant to his request. The Indiana Court of Appeals also upheld the trial court’s ruling to authenticate the foreign order, citing Kidd v. State, 738 N.E.2d 1039 (Ind. 2000).  Although there was a handwritten change on Father’s foreign order, the Deputy Prothonotary of Bucks County, Pennsylvania certified  and signed the order.

Under Indiana Code § 31-18-6-9, Father’s request for registration of a foreign order, not the completed application, was sufficient for him to file the petition to modify child support. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s retroactively modifying Father’s child support and awarding Father credit for the significant travel costs he incurred to maintain parenting time with Child. After the court entered the foreign order, Father was unemployed for two years and then obtained a lower paying job. Father’s circumstances had substantially changed since the court entered the foreign order or the foreign order differed by more than 20 percent from what would be ordered under Indiana’s child support guidelines.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In the Matter of the Support of B.J.R.: B.J.R., by next friend, R.J.C. v. C.J.R., Sr.

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The Indiana Family Law Update is a free service provided by Bingham Greenebaum Doll, LLP. While significant efforts are made to ensure an accurate summary and reproduction of each opinion, readers are advised to verify all content and analysis with a traditional case law reporter before relying on the content and analysis offered here.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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