There is a saying about lawyers representing themselves that goes something like this:
A lawyer who represents themselves, has a fool for a client
And that is what the legal community thinks about a person that is actually trained to understand and argue the law.
What about an individual that is not trained to advocate their legal position, nor understand how the facts could turn a case a certain way? What about a matter that is perceived to be simple such as a child support modification or rule to show cause for non-payment of child support? Is a lawyer truly necessary for a matter that is that simple?
I would first like you to consider whether filing a child support modification is simple. Sure the forms are online, even the Indiana Supreme Court website provides them to you at no costs. How hard can it be right?
Well, examining the Indiana Supreme Court Self Service Legal Center’s website gives you some advice right off the bat:
The Indiana Supreme Court does not recommend that you choose self-representation over hiring a licensed attorney to handle your court case.
Sure, the website goes a bit further and examines situations where it may not be feasible to hire an attorney, because you just may not be able to afford it. But, before we get to that issue, let’s get back to how ‘simple’ a child support case is.
First, child support in Indiana is governed by the Indiana Child Support Guidelines. The Guidelines are also available online and can be downloaded in Word and PDF format. The PDF format is twenty-six (26) pages of definitions, commentary, explanations, forms, etc. How in-depth can the Guidelines really be? Let’s answer that question by taking a look at the definition of weekly gross income:
Definition of Weekly Gross Income (Line 1 of Worksheet). For purposes of these Guidelines, “weekly gross income" is defined as actual weekly gross income of the parent if employed to full capacity, potential income if unemployed or underemployed, and imputed income based upon “in-kind" benefits. Weekly gross income of each parent includes income from any source, except as excluded below, and includes, but is not limited to, income from salaries, wages, commissions, bonuses, overtime, partnership distributions, dividends, severance pay, pensions, interest, trust income, annuities, capital gains, social security benefits, workmen’s compensation benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, disability insurance benefits, gifts, inheritance, prizes, and alimony or maintenance received from other marriages. Social Security disability benefits paid for the benefit of the child must be included in the disabled parent’s gross income. The disabled parent is entitled to a credit for the amount of Social Security disability benefits paid for the benefit of the child. Specifically excluded are benefits from means-tested public assistance programs, including, but not limited to, Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income, and Food Stamps. Also excluded are survivor benefits received by or for other children residing in either parent’s home.
That’s just for income, and that does not include the fact that there are many Indiana Court of Appeals and Indiana Supreme Court cases that act as legal authority in our state to help define even further how to use certain types of income in determining child support. Most people start out thinking that the Court is just going to take a look at my weekly gross income and the other parent’s weekly gross income. Sure, that could be the case, but what about overtime; or the possibility that one parent may be facing a shut-down period or layoff; how about that extra side job that the parent does in the summer time, is that included? Possibly…possibly not. And, we are just at line one into the child support worksheet.
There are many other examples that I could continue to point to such as how to properly credit a parent for an older child who lives with them, to determining what is truly work-related child care, to factoring an appropriate health insurance expense (for that matter defining an appropriate health insurance expense), etc. The point that I would like to make is that a few missteps in determining child support could costs you in terms of real dollars that you have to pay or that you need to help you support your children. This is an area of the law, where I often tell people that having an attorney can pay for itself.