Friday, January 1, 2010

Indiana Case Law - Parenting Time Credit

Yes, a bit behind time reporting on Vandenburgh v. Vandenburgh as the decision dates back to November 16. DIVORCE LAW INDIANA has already reported on this case with its Indiana Family Law Case Update: parenting time credit isn't automatic. The case makes a good introduction into how courts interpret statutes and Child Support Guidelines.

The father having the children on Monday and Thursday nights raised the parenting time issue. The Indiana Court of Appeals noted that Indiana Child Support Guideline 3(G)(4) does not specify an outcome but gives discretion to trial courts (relying on Grant v. Hager, 868 N.E.2d 801, 802 (Ind. 2007). (Opinion at 3).

The Court of Appeals laid out the law on statutory interpretation in this passage (Opinion at 3):

In Sherrard v. Bd. of Comm’rs of Fulton County, 151 Ind. App. 127, 130, 278
N.E.2d 307, 309 (1972), we noted the rule of statutory construction that ―[w]ords and phrases shall be taken in their plain, or ordinary and usual, sense. Technical words and phrases having a peculiar and appropriate meaning in law shall be understood according to their technical import.‖ (quoting Ind. Code § 1-1-4-1).
For those thinking, the Child Support Guidelines are not statutes - you are correct. The Indiana Court of Appeals commented on that fact, too.
We acknowledge this guideline is not a ―statute,‖ but believe this rule provides useful guidance in this situation, as it does in contract interpretation. See Armstrong v. Federated Mut. Ins. Co., 785 N.E.2d 284, 292 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003) (when interpreting a contract, clear and unambiguous language will be given itsplain and ordinary meaning), reh’g denied, trans. denied 804 N.E.2d 750 (Ind. 2003).
Which lead to this conclusion:
We do not believe language in the Child Support Guidelines must be interpreted
―in a technical nature, and accordingly hold the language ―may grant the noncustodial parent a credit toward his or her weekly child support obligation‖ means what it says – such credit is not mandatory. See Grant v. Hager, 868 N.E.2d 801, 802 (Ind. 2007) (noting under the Guidelines, a Parenting Time Credit is ―authorized‖ based on the number of overnights children spend with the non-custodial parent). We accordingly decline to hold the trial court was obliged to grant parenting time credit just because Father asked it to and provided evidence that might permit such credit.
I think passage contains some ideas that non-lawyers should absorb about the parenting time credit:
The Child Support Guidelines contain a formula for calculating parenting time
credit based on the number of ―overnights per year that the noncustodial parent spends with the children. Child Supp. G. 6 Table PT. The commentary to the guidelines provides an ―overnight ―should include . . . the costs of feeding and transporting the child, attending to school work and the like. Merely providing a child with a place to sleep in order to obtain a credit is prohibited.‖ Child Supp. G. 6 cmt. The rationale behind the parenting time credit is that overnight visits with the noncustodial parent may alter some of the financial burden of the custodial and noncustodial parents in caring for the children. Young, 891 N.E.2d at 1048. Because calculating the amount of financial burden alleviated by an overnight visit is difficult, the guidelines provide a standardized
parenting time credit formula. Id. Not all visits in which a child stays overnight may qualify for the parenting time credit. Id.

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