Indiana’s Appellate Panel Relies Upon Obscure Statute in Paternity Case

Indiana’s Court of Appeals reversed a decision regarding paternity and child support relying upon a little used state statute to support their opinion.

In the case of In Re Paternity of D.L., C.L. v. Y.B., No. 88A01-1002-JP-224, the judges unanimously reversed a decision by the Washington Circuit Trial Court involving a man’s paternity and child support arrangement for a child born out of wedlock in 1993.

The mother had initially filed a paternity action against the father a few years after the eldest child’s birth.  The father admitted paternity, and an order was issued regarding two children.  The parties shared the financial obligations and maintained regular parenting time.  Subsequently, paternity was raised during a modification matter regarding custody and child support.  Genetic testing determined that “C.L.” wasn’t the biological father of the eldest child.

At the time, C.L. was delinquent in child support nearly $9,000 and asked that the trial court relieve him of the arrearage.  The mother argued that this would constitute a retroactive modification of child support and the Washington Circuit Trial Court judge declined to grant C.L.’s request, holding that under Indiana Code 31-16-16-6, courts generally do not have authority to retroactively modify obligor’s duty to pay a delinquent child support payment.

C.L. appealed, and the appellate panel disagreed with the Trial Court’s characterization of C.L.’s request.  Instead, the COA judges relied upon IC 31-14-11-23 – a statute that no Indiana appellate court has applied since its inception in 1994 and which was not cited by either party in the instant case.  The COA ruled the statute was relevant to this matter as it directly relates a man’s child support obligation and any arrearage terminates if a court vacates his paternity based on fraud or mistake of fact. However, the COA’s decision doesn’t affect C.L’s obligation to pay any child support for the youngest child, which is his biological child, so the judges remanded the case to the lower court for a recalculation of a corrected arrearage.

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