Father’s Child Support Arrearage Still Not Dischargeable after 20 Years

Family Law Case Review

Case: Derek H. Elwood v. Wendy A. Parker
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Father’s child support arrearage of more than $150,000 was not dischargeable (or entitled to any relief at equity) even though Mother made no effort to enforce the support obligation for 20 years, which was approximately two years after the younger child’s emancipation.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:  Mother and Father were married briefly in the 1990s, they had two children together, and then divorced in 1995. As part of the dissolution, Mother was awarded custody of the children and Father was ordered to pay child support of $169 per week. After making four months of support payments, Father stopped paying child support, moved away, disappeared, and never made another support payment.

Father had no relationship with the children during this period. Mother remarried and Mother’s new husband stepped into the de facto role of the two children’s father.  The children were not aware of Father’s existence until Mother told them as teenagers. Mother made no effort during this period to locate Father or to collect his growing child support arrearage.

In 2015, two years after the younger child’s emancipation and 20 years after the divorce, Mother located Father and filed to determine his support arrearage. After a hearing, Father was ordered to pay an arrearage of $157,555, plus interest of $20,434, plus Mother’s attorney’s fees of $2,800. Father appealed.

On appeal, Father advanced an argument that he was entitled to some type of relief given the amount of time that had passed, and that Mother had made no effort to enforce the arrearage in a more timely manner. Father also argued that Mother’s new husband stepping into a role of a father figure for the children, also warranted some relief on the arrearage.

The Court of Appeals underscored that a retroactive modification of a child support order – which is effectively what Father was requesting – is appropriate in only very limited circumstances, none of which applies here. The Court also noted that Father provided no authority, and the Court found none on its own, to support any argument that step-father assuming a father figure role for the children could have the effect of relieving Father of his child support obligations.

The trial court’s arrearage order was affirmed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Derek H. Elwood v. Wendy A. Parker

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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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