Court of Appeals Affirms Mother is Unemployed with Just Cause

Case: Tracy K. Barber v. Amy Henry
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Trial court did not abuse its discretion when it concluded that Mother, who scaled back and then eventually quit working as a physician in order to care for her special needs children, should not be imputed to more than minimum wage for child support purposes.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Mother and Father had Child in 1999. The parties shared joint legal custody, with Mother providing primary physical custody subject to Father’s “liberal visitation.” Mother re-married, and her children – including Child – and the child of her new husband had various developmental challenges, such as autism and ADHD.

Mother had worked as a physician, but began working less and less to spend more time at home dealing with the children’s needs, therapy appointments, and eventually some home schooling. Mother’s husband was a full-time physician, providing Mother the easier financial option of working less. By late 2014, Mother quit working altogether, partly a result of an incident at Father’s house which left Child charged with a juvenile incident, after which Child was placed on house arrest and suicide watch.  One of Child’s probation requirements was no contact with Father.

In 2015, litigation between Mother and Father erupted on various issues, most relevant to this appeal being a child support recalculation. After a hearing, the trial court calculated child support with Mother at minimum wage, finding that Mother’s departure from the workforce was not unreasonable and not devised to avoid child support. Father appealed.

The Court of Appeals reviewed the case law on imputation of income, noting that “[i]t is not our function . . . to approve or disapprove of the lifestyle of [parents] or their career choices and the means by which they choose to discharge their obligations in general.”  The Court’s “review of the record leaves us convinced that Mother is unemployed with just cause.” [Notably, the opinion did not seem to address in detail Father’s central gravamen on appeal, which was not that Mother should be imputed income based upon Mother’s own potential income, but instead a Gilpin-type imputation to Mother based upon the financial resources shared with her by her new husband that allowed Mother the option not to work.]

The trial court’s calculation of child support was affirmed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Tracy K. Barber v. Amy Henry

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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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