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Child support case presents issue of first impression

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The Indiana Court of Appeals was presented with an issue for the first time: whether a child support order should be reduced for the time a child is living on campus when a court has found that the child has repudiated the non-custodial parent, and on that basis refused to enter an educational support order.

Mother Shari Lovold sought contributions from her ex-husband for their son’s college expenses. After interviewing C.E. in camera, the trial court concluded that the teen had repudiated his relationship with his father. After an unpleasant visit in 2004 when C.E. was 11, father Clifford Scott Ellis did not see his son for eight years. C.E. never contacted his father, even after turning 18. The judge found the son’s comments that he did want a relationship with his father to “ring hollow” and be “highly suspect.”

The trial court did not modify Ellis’ child support obligation as Ellis had wanted. He filed a motion to correct error and requested an adjustment because he had been paying his ex-wife $60 – and not the $150 that had been ordered in 2004 – since C.E. started college. He also believed the trial court miscalculated the amount of time C.E. would live at home at 36 weeks instead of 16. The trial court granted mother’s motion to correct error regarding the support and ordered Ellis pay as if C.E. were living at home year round.

In Shari (Ellis) Lovold v. Clifford Scott Ellis, 54A01-1209-DR-410, the judges affirmed the trial court’s finding that C.E. refused to participate in a relationship with his father. Thus, the trial court didn’t err when it denied Lovold’s request for Ellis to pay toward C.E.’s college expenses.

Repudiation can prevent a parent from paying college expenses, but it is not a defense to an order for child support, the COA pointed out. While a court may order college expenses and child support, living expenses for a child living on campus should be included in the educational support order.

“We hold that living expenses for a child living on campus should similarly not be included in the child support order when, as here, the child has repudiated the parent and the parent is therefore not required to contribute to the child’s post-secondary education. To hold otherwise would render repudiation no longer a complete defense to the payment of college expenses,” Chief Judge Margret Robb wrote.

“We do not adopt a bright-line rule requiring the filing of both a child support obligation worksheet and a post-secondary education support worksheet because no educational support order has been entered. But the trial court must reduce child support for the time the child will be living away from home for college.”

The judges remanded for the trial court to re-calculate the support so Ellis doesn’t pay for the time C.E. lives on campus.

 

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