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Change in emancipation law brings uncertainty

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The Indiana General Assembly’s passage of legislation lowering the emancipation age from 21 to 19 has attorneys questioning if children could be treated differently by the courts depending on whether or not their parents were ever married.

Under the old paternity and divorce statutes, children in either situation could petition for educational support up to their 21st birthday. But under amendments to those statutes passed in Senate Enrolled Act 18, which became effective July 1, the age to seek college support is now 19. There is a loophole, but it only covers children who are the subject of paternity orders.

mckinnon McKinnon

Consequently, attorneys are debating whether the Legislature meant for the two statutes to be different or if the governing body intended for the provisions to be applied equally. Both sides agree that absent any adjustment by the General Assembly, the question will eventually arrive before Indiana’s appellate courts.

Differing interpretations

Patricia McKinnon is not sure if the amended language in the paternity statute also applies to the divorce statute. As a certified family law specialist through the family law certification board, an independent certification board with the Indiana State Bar Association, she handles many child support cases.

What the Legislature intended is unclear, McKinnon said. So, she is now advising all her clients that if there is any chance their children will be going to college after they turn 19, they should get an educational support order before they are emancipated.

Prior to becoming emancipated, the statutes do allow children to petition for the non-custodial parent to help pay post-secondary education costs.

In the amended paternity statute, minors who had a child support order issued before July 1, 2012, will have until they are 21 to file for college support. Even children who are currently very young would qualify for this loophole. For those covered by a child support order issued after June 30, 2012, they must petition for education support by the time they turn 19.

No corresponding language about this exception is included in the divorce statute.

David Morris, senior deputy prosecuting attorney in the child support division of the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, explained in an email that appellate decisions have frequently applied the divorce statute to emancipation in paternity cases, see Paternity of P.W.J., 846 N.E.2d 752 (Ind.Ct.App. 2006), affirmed and clarified on rehearing, 850 N.E.2d 1024 (Ind.Ct.App. 2006). This had been done, in part, because only the divorce statute defines emancipation.

However, whether the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court read the two statutes in pari materia regarding educational orders remains to be seen, he wrote. “There are sound legal principles both justifying and rejecting the two statutes’ facially disparate treatment.”

Richard Mann, also a certified family law specialist, argues the statutes should be read literally.

The Legislature was aware of the difference between the paternity and divorce statutes, he said. Elected officials possibly meant to treat children who are the subject of dissolution actions differently.

Thereby, if children of divorce do not file a petition for educational support before their 19th birthday, despite when their child support orders were issued, then, Mann said, they are out of luck.

Michael Cheerva, partner at Avery & Cheerva LLP, maintained that not applying the loophole equally to paternity and divorce cases would open a Pandora’s Box.

He believes the General Assembly intended to treat paternity and divorce cases in a like manner. In fact, the language will be applied across both statutes even if the Legislature does not clarify the statute because of equal protection concerns and caselaw that treats children in paternity cases and divorce cases the same.

“I don’t think the Legislature’s failure to match the divorce statute to the paternity statute is fatal,” Cheerva said.

The author of the bill, Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, said he noticed the discrepancy between the statutes when the bill returned from the House of Representatives. He tried to fix the language but House Democrats, “mad about various things,” blocked his effort.

“Did it make sense? No,” Steele wrote in an email discussing the Democrats’ action. “Did it create an imperfect bill? Yes.”

For the upcoming General Assembly session, Steele, who is also an attorney, has requested his staff research whether combining the various sections pertaining to child support into one unified section would make the provisions clearer. He maintained if the research supports his view that having a single section will bring clarity, including to the language issue, he will file a bill to combine the sections.

Cramming

mann Mann

While attorneys wrestle with language differences in the two statutes, they do agree non-custodial parents could be paying for a lot more “educational support.” Specifically with child support ending at 19, attorneys expect to see an increase in the number of educational support petitions as more families will try to get child support payments continued by telling the court the money is for college.

Traditionally, Cheerva said, the courts have considered college expenses to be limited to tuition, room and board, books and fees. However, the Supreme Court guidelines on what constitutes educational support are broad and include such things as health insurance, car insurance, clothing, incidentals and entertainment. That will likely inspire some cramming of child support into educational support.

“As this (emancipation) statute takes effect and winds its way through the courts, I suspect a lot of cases will test how much child support we can squeeze into educational support,” Cheerva said.

On this matter, Cheerva takes a literal reading. The Legislature specifically provided for post-secondary educational support to be separate from child support, and the Supreme Court has issued guidelines that define college expenses very expansively.

“Who are we to second guess the Legislature and the Supreme Court?” he asked. “They give us the rules and we use them.”

Steele agrees that attorneys will try to get more costs covered under educational support orders but he warned them to be careful. If lawyers keep pushing, elected officials will hear the complaints from constituents and end all provisions for educational support.

“Lawyers and practicing family lawyers ought to understand, college expenses beyond the 12th grade are hanging by a thread in the Indiana Legislature,” Steele said. “Tons of legislators are happy to say you don’t get any college expenses.”

Prior to the emancipation law taking effect on July 1, the Court of Appeals did address the issue of educational support in Sexton v. Sexton, 34A02-1111-DR-1059.

Writing for the majority, Judge Nancy Vaidik held that Public Law 111-2012 will still enable a child to seek help with college expenses although the age to file for such support has been lowered to 19.

However, she pointed out, since designating support as “educational” was often not done prior to the enactment of Public Law 111-2012, “we anticipate that many support orders for college-age students may not specifically refer to the support as educational, although in reality it is. Trial courts must determine on a case-by-case basis whether support is in fact educational support.”•
 

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  • Emancipation law - educational expenses
    The way I understand this, children of paternity have more rights then of divorced children? Also, to set the record straight, not all divorced mommys "gets a bunch of extras and tax breaks....all the while having the state pay her insurance and housing...she is not held accountable for her share of supporting the child...the taxpayers are covering her share" And who said the divorced mom does not have to help pay college expenses? Yes, if you are married then as married parents get to decide if they wish to pay for their child's college expenses but you lose that decision when you get divorced. I would like to know what politician thinks that once a child turns 19 years old that they no longer need to eat! It is disturbing to me that any parent, mother or father, does not want to help their children get their college education!
  • Emancipation vs tax
    My ex emancipated my daughter, pays very little of the college expenses but yet still states he should get to claim her for taxes?? How does an emancipation ruling affect the child's right to declare themselves.
  • Not Right
    How is it that everyone feels sorry for the "poor little divorced kids"? They have it made! Mommy can collect child support, and then just because she is a single mom...she gets a bunch of extras and tax breaks....all the while having the state pay her insurance and housing...she is not held accountable for her share of supporting the child...the taxpayers are covering her share..... but the father has to work and pay his support or go to jail... College expenses...mommy does not have to pay for her share because she is a single parent...but the father does? Give me a break! I get tired of seeing "non custodial this and non custodial that!".....it is both parents responsibility I also feel that our government is providing a disgrace service for children of intact marriages.....if you are married, you and your spouse make the decision on if you will contribute any or what amount for college.. It is a double standard!!!!

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    1. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

    2. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

    3. Low energy. Next!

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    5. OK, take notice. Those wondering just how corrupt the Indiana system is can see the picture in this post. Attorney Donald James did not criticize any judges, he merely, it would seem, caused some clients to file against him and then ignored his own defense. James thus disrespected the system via ignoring all and was also ordered to reimburse the commission $525.88 for the costs of prosecuting the first case against him. Yes, nearly $526 for all the costs, the state having proved it all. Ouch, right? Now consider whistleblower and constitutionalist and citizen journalist Paul Ogden who criticized a judge, defended himself in such a professional fashion as to have half the case against him thrown out by the ISC and was then handed a career ending $10,000 bill as "half the costs" of the state crucifying him. http://www.theindianalawyer.com/ogden-quitting-law-citing-high-disciplinary-fine/PARAMS/article/35323 THE TAKEAWAY MESSAGE for any who have ears to hear ... resist Star Chamber and pay with your career ... welcome to the Indiana system of (cough) justice.

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