Family Law Case Review: Trial Court Reduces Mothers Parenting Time; Imputed Income Based on Voluntary Underemployment: Holds Mother in Indirect Contempt

Case: In Re: The Marriage of: Meleeka Clary-Ghosh v. Michael Ghosh 
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Where trial court reduced Mother’s parenting time, but not to an amount less than the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines schedule, no finding of endangerment or impairment was required.

HELD: Trial court acted within its discretion when it imputed income to Mother in its child support recalculation, based upon evidence of Mother’s voluntary underemployment, her lifestyle, and her access to and use of funds that substantially exceeded her claimed income.

HELD: Trial court was within its discretion to hold Mother in indirect contempt, and order a related attorney fee award, where Mother failed to contribute to court-ordered school expenses of the child, despite having an ability to do so.

HELD: Trial court was within its discretion to deny Mother’s request for a parenting time coordinator; the trial court has authority to reserve such decision making for itself.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Father and Mother divorced, with one child, in 2010. Father was awarded legal custody and primary physical custody of the child, subject to Mother’s parenting time schedule. Mother’s schedule was “IPTG plus,” with a midweek parenting time was an overnight and her weekends were extended until Monday morning. No child support payment had been ordered between the parents in the original Decree.

At some point, acrimonious litigation ensued and numerous motions and petitions were filed by both parties.

Following a hearing, the trial court found Mother in contempt for not paying approximately $7300 in educational expenses for the child. In addition, an attorney fee award of $8,000 was granted to Father. Also, a new child support order was issued based upon Mother being imputed to $40,000 year of income, even though she was a graduate student who claimed actual income of only a fraction that amount.

Finally, the trial court reduced Mother’s parenting time to a schedule very similar to the IPTG, and denied Mother’s request for the appointment of a parenting time coordinator. Mother appealed.

The Court of Appeals wholly affirmed the trial court’s order. On the child support modification, the Court concluded that the trial court’s theory that Mother was voluntarily underemployed and had access to various bank accounts and family money was supported by the evidence. Thus, imputing Mother to $40,000/yr in its child support calculation was within discretion.

On the modification of parenting time, the Court rejected Mother’s argument on appeal that the trial court could not reduce her parenting time absent a finding of endangerment or impairment. Instead, the Court noted that a reduction of parenting time, so long as it does not drop below the IPTG schedule, can be implemented properly based upon only the best interests of the child, and evidence to support those best interests were presented into evidence.

Next, the Court concluded that the trial court was within its discretion in its contempt order against Mother and its attendant attorney fee award. Evidence was presented as to Mother’s financial resources and lifestyle during the period she was not paying for child’s educational expenses that supported a conclusion that Mother’s failure to comply with the court’s orders was willful and deliberate.

Finally, since a trial court may properly retain parenting time decisions for itself, a denial of a motion for a parenting time coordinator — here, requested by Mother — was within its discretion.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In Re: The Marriage of: Meleeka Clary-Ghosh v. Michael Ghosh

_________________________________________________________________________________

James A. Reed and Michael R. Kohlhaas of Bingham Greenebaum Doll represent clients in a wide spectrum of relationship transition and wealth planning matters, including premarital agreements, estate planning, cohabitation, separation, divorce (especially involving high net worth individuals and/or complex asset issues), custody, parenting arrangements, adoption, and domestic partnerships. Bingham Greenebaum Doll, a multidisciplinary law firm serving regional, national, and international clients, is the fourth-largest law firm in Indiana. The firm’s main practices include corporate, property, litigation, labor, government law, and personal services law. Visit the firm’s website at www.bgdlegal.com.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

Leave a Reply