David K. Hawk
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE
Jeffrey A. Modisett
Fort Wayne, Indiana
Attorney General of Indiana
Deputy Attorney General
David K. Hawk
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE
Jeffrey A. Modisett
Prosecutor. After some additional skirmishing and an abandoned attempt by the State to
appeal the denial of its attempt to intervene, the Mother hired private counsel and proceeded
alone. In February, 1997, the trial court ordered the Father to pay $199 per week from the
time the petition was filed in 1995. An arrearage of over $15,000 had accumulated since the
time the petition was filed and the Father was ordered to pay this arrearage at a rate of not
less than $200 per week commencing when the child becomes emancipated.
The Father appealed some aspects of the trial court's award and the Mother, now again represented by the State, cross-appealed the trial court's disqualification of the Prosecutor as her counsel as well as some substantive points. The Court of Appeals held that Indiana Code § 12-17-2-21 has not provided the State with the authority to intervene and represent a party in the initiation of an action to modify an existing child support order and affirmed the trial court's ruling that the Prosecutor could not represent the Mother in seeking modification of the support order. Collier, 696 N.E.2d at 54. The Court of Appeals found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in resolving the substantive issues raised by either party and affirmed the trial court in all respects. The State sought transfer and filed a petition to advance the case on the docket. We granted transfer on October 30, 1998.
to obtain support orders. In rejecting that contention, the Father and the Court of Appeals
relied on the list of duties found in Indiana Code § 12-17-2-21 (1998). In a nutshell, the
Court of Appeals found the omission of explicit mention of modification proceedings to be
conclusive evidence that the General Assembly did not authorize the State to assist parents
with modification actions. Absence of authority to assist in modification proceedings is
fortified by the phrase when there is no existing order in subsection 21(2), which
authorizes assistance. This arguably suggests that the presence of an order precludes State
aid in a modification proceeding. We conclude, however, that the statute taken as a whole
includes the authority to assist in modification proceedings.
The General Assembly established the Child Support Bureau in 1976.See footnote 1 It charged the Bureau with administering the state plan to implement the provisions of Title IV-D of the federal Social Security Act. The duties of the Bureau are set out in Indiana Code § 12-17-2- 21. They include the obligation to:
(1) Collect support payments when the payments have been assigned to the state by the application for assistance under Title IV-A.
(2) Assist in obtaining a support order, including an order for health insurance coverage under IC 27-8-23, when there is no existing order and assistance is sought.
(3) Assist mothers of children born out of wedlock in establishing paternity and obtaining a support order, including an order for health insurance coverage under IC 27-8-23, when the mother has applied for assistance.
(4) Implement income withholding in any Title IV-D case:
681 N.E.2d 713, 717 (Ind. 1997); Clifft v. Indiana Dep't of State Revenue, 660 N.E.2d 310,
316 (Ind. 1995); Park 100 Dev. Co. v. Indiana Dep't of State Revenue, 429 N.E.2d 220, 222
(Ind. 1981) (the legislative intent as ascertained from the statute as a whole prevails over the
strict literal meaning of any word or term). We have additional guidance in construing the
statutes involved in this case: IC 12-13 through IC 12-19 shall be liberally construed so that
the purposes may be accomplished as equitably, economically, and expeditiously as
possible. Ind. Code § 12-13-5-12 (1998).
By establishing the Child Support Bureau, the General Assembly intended to provide children in Indiana better access to the resources of their parents by providing State assistance in obtaining and enforcing support orders. Because Indiana adopted this law pursuant to a federal mandate, the expressed federal purpose of enforcing the support obligations owed by absent parents to their children and the spouse (or former spouse) . . . locating absent parents, establishing paternity, obtaining child and spousal support is also relevant. 42 U.S.C. § 651 (1994 & Supp. II 1996). The purpose of child support in general, and the State's assistance even in cases where the child's household is not receiving public assistance, is to provide the child with resources in parity with those of both parents. See Estate of Brummett by Brummett v. Brummett, 472 N.E.2d 616, 619 n.4 (Ind. Ct. App. 1984); Wendorf v. Wendorf, 174 Ind. App. 172, 173, 366 N.E.2d 703, 705 (1977) (purpose of child support is to provide children with standard of living they would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved).
This purpose is served not only by the initial order but also by any necessary
modification of a support order. The Child Support Guidelines adopted by this Court clearly
anticipate that the parents' incomes are to be a major factor in determining the amount of
support each will provide for the child. Ind. Child Support Guideline 1. Because parental
incomes fluctuate with changing jobs, educational level and the economy, child support
obligations, as they are determined by the Guidelines, are also subject to modification upon
a substantial change in circumstances. Child Supp. G. 4 & cmt. (change in circumstances
may result from change in income of parents). This case presents a common example.
Father was a student at the time of the dissolution but subsequently became a practicing
physician with an income at times in six figures. The legislative purpose to provide children
with a share of their parents' incomes through child support would be severely hampered if
attorneys working through the Bureau were limited to seeking initial orders. In view of the
somewhat ambiguous language already discussed this purpose is instructive.
The same conclusion is supported by other provisions in Indiana's family law statutes, some of which expressly contemplate that the Child Support Bureau may initiate actions to modify support orders. Section 31-14-11-3(b) states: If, however, the Title IV-D agency [the Bureau in this case] initiates action to establish or modify a support obligation and petitions the court to include basic health and hospitalization insurance coverage in the support order, the court shall consider including a provision for this insurance coverage . . . . Section 31-16-8-2 states: The court shall consider modifying a support order to include
basic health and hospitalization coverage for the child if a Title IV-D agencySee footnote
under the federal Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 651 through 669) and IC 12-17-2-21,
petitions for the modification . . . .
In addition, regulations promulgated by the Division of Family and Children under the authority of Indiana Code § 12-17-2 define Child Support Enforcement Services to include the legal activities necessary to establish or enforce a child support order including . . . modification of an existing support order . . . . 470 I.A.C. 2-5-1(1) (1996). This provision has been on the books since 1977 following the creation of the Child Support Division in 1976. Although we are not bound by administrative regulations, they can provide insight into legislative intent. A long-standing administrative interpretation of a statute dating from its enactment, without legislative modification, raises a presumption of legislative acquiescence to agency interpretation which is strongly persuasive on a court. Baker v. Compton, 247 Ind. 39, 42, 211 N.E.2d 162, 164 (1965); Board of Sch. Trustees v. Marion Teachers Ass'n, 530 N.E.2d 309, 311 (Ind. Ct. App. 1988). The regulation clearly includes modification among the services provided by the Bureau and the attorneys with whom it contracts.
Finally, if modifications were not authorized, the Bureau would find it impossible to comply with all of its statutory mandates. The General Assembly specifically directed the
Bureau to follow federal requirements in developing and implementing the state's plan for
the administration of Title IV-D. The bureau shall consider and follow the federal
requirements imposed by statute and regulation governing the formation of the state plan.
Ind. Code § 12-17-2-14 (1998). The plan must comply with all provisions of state law and
with the federal statutes and regulations governing the program. Ind. Code § 12-17-2-6
(1998). Federal statutes prescribe that state plans for support must provide services relating
to the establishment of paternity or the establishment, modification, or enforcement of child
support obligations . . . . 42 U.S.C. § 654(4)(A) (Supp. II 1996).See footnote
require state programs to implement a process for review and adjustment of support orders.
45 C.F.R. § 303.8 (1998). In sum, federal laws and regulations clearly anticipate that
adjustments may be made to support orders and that state programs will have a role in
securing those adjustments. The explicit legislative directive to comply with federal
requirements and thereby qualify for federal funding constitutes yet another persuasive
reason to construe the statute as the State does, and as we do, to permit assistance in
SHEPARD, C.J., and DICKSON, SULLIVAN, and SELBY, JJ., concur.
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