Trial Court within Discretion Modifying Decree to Provide Mother the Dependency Exemption for Child EVERY Year

Case: James Bogner v. Teresa Bogner 

by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Trial court did not commit error when it entered an upward deviation in child support, from the Indiana Child Support Guidelines, after stating findings on the record in support of its conclusion that the Guidelines level of support would create a hardship for Mother’s ability to care for Child.

HELD: Trial court acted within its discretion when it modified the Decree to provide that Mother would receive the dependency exemption for Child every year, rather than in alternating years.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
[Note:  Much of this case pertained to the fact that, by the implied consent of the parties, the case was presented to the trial court in summary fashion, rather than through a full evidentiary hearing. The largest takeaway of that discussion is that efforts to appeal a trial court’s order are made much more complicated and difficult by consenting to a hearing in summary fashion. The consequences of the informality of summary proceedings cannot be challenged on appeal if they were not objected to at the time of the hearing.]

The marriage of Mother and Father was dissolved in 2007. Father was then ordered to pay child support  of $162 per week for Child. That obligation was subsequently reduced to $135 per week.

In 2013, Father again sought modification. The parties seemed to agree on the applicable child support worksheet which, once Father’s increased parenting time credit was factored in, would result in a presumed child support obligation under the Guidelines of $59 per week. Mother argued for an upward deviation, stating that $59 per week left her with insufficient resources to cover her costs as the primary custodial parent.

After a hearing conducted in summary fashion, the trial court agreed with Mother, and set child support at $105 per week. This was the amount of child support that would be calculated under the Guidelines if Father were given a parenting time credit for only half of his actual overnights. The trial court also permitted Mother to claim Child on her taxes every year, whereas it had been alternated previously. Father appealed.

The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the upward deviation based upon the specific findings made by the trial court as to the hardship that Mother would incur if she received only $59 per week of child support as the primary custody parent. In addition, the Court cited to Guidelines in support of the proposition that a trial court is not required to award a parenting time credit based upon overnights. As is noted in the commentary of the Guidelines, “[a]n overnight will not always translate into a twenty-four hour block of time with all of the attendant costs and responsibilities….”

With respect to the tax dependency exemption, Mother introduced an exhibit showing the benefit she would receive through the exemption, and “Father offered no exhibits of his own to rebut the exhibits offered by Mother.”  The trial court did not err by granting the annual dependency exemption for Child to Mother.

The trial court’s modification order was affirmed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: James Bogner v. Teresa Bogner

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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

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