COA agrees father was underemployed but dismisses child support order

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A father who was found to be willfully underemployed after his wife filed for divorce received a partial reversal on Friday when the Indiana Court of Appeals noted questions remained about his job opportunities and level of income.

From 2016 to 2018, Jeremy Walters served as the family’s sole breadwinner while working in the pipeline industry. His job was in West Virginia, requiring him to live apart from his wife, Jamie, and three children for months at a time.

Prior to 2019, Jeremy had never been out of work for more than a month at a time. His adjusted gross income over the years in West Virginia ranged from $185,866 to $215,050.

While married to Jamie, Jeremy allegedly told her numerous times that if they divorced he would not pay child support, become a ‘deadbeat’ and a ‘tramp’ and refuse to allow anyone to dictate. their access to their children.

The last time he said such things to Jamie was in 2019, the same year she filed for divorce. By then Jeremy had lost his job in the pipeline and remained unemployed until May 2021, when he started working as a car salesman in Illinois, earning $2,500 a month. However, he never informed Jamie that he had been fired.

During the final hearing of the divorce proceedings, Jamie asked the Fountain Court to impute a gross weekly income of $3,920 per week to Jeremy, a figure she arrived at by averaging his income from West Virginia from 2016 to 2018. For his part, Jeremy requested that his child support obligation be based on his gross weekly income from the car dealership of $577.

The trial court ultimately imputed a weekly gross income of $3,875.06 to Jeremy based on his average weekly income from 2016 to 2018. It also awarded primary physical custody of the children to Jamie.

Partially upholding this decision, the Court of Appeal found that the trial court’s decision that Jeremy was willfully underemployed was supported by the evidence and therefore not patently wrong.

The COA found that Jeremy’s argument that the trial court abused its discretion was unpersuasive. In addition, the appeals court said it did not believe that upholding the trial court’s decision would “unnecessarily promote litigation” between Indiana courts.

But when it comes to child support, the COA found the trial court’s order was clearly wrong because of the lack of evidence on the record regarding job opportunities and income levels in his community. of the Midwest.

The Court of Appeal thus referred to the production of additional evidence on these two elements, noting, as it had done in Miller v. Miller, 72 NE3d 952 (Ind. Ct. App. 2017), that the trial court “is free to re-evaluate and revise its order as it deems necessary”.

“Therefore, on remand, the trial court will hear additional evidence on the listed factors, but is not required to enter findings of fact and conclusions on each of them,” the judge wrote on Friday. Patricia Riley in Jeremy A. Walters vs. Jamie E. Walters21A-DC-2218.

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