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Daughter's emancipation upheld; COA advises on forthcoming child-support changes

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A 20-year-old woman will remain emancipated from her divorced parents after the Indiana Court Appeals on Friday upheld a Howard Circuit Court order.

The court also offered guidance regarding a forthcoming change in state law that will lower the age of child support termination from 21 to 19: Parents still may be obligated to provide educational support past age 19.

The young woman, K.S., was emancipated when the father successfully sued to discontinue child support payments after she became pregnant. Her mother appealed in Tricia Sexton v. Travis Sexton, No. 34A02-1111-DR-1059, claiming the trial court erred in finding that K.S. was outside the care or control of her parents and was self-supporting.

K.S. had obtained a certified nursing assistant license in high school and had been working at a nursing home and taking classes at Ivy Tech while her father continued weekly child support payments of $240. Two months after she became pregnant, she quit her job.

The father sued before K.S.’s child was born and court records say K.S. told the father that she refused to see him, and he would no longer have a relationship with her or his grandson. K.S. lived with her mother and didn’t work or pay rent, but received government assistance and financial aid that fully paid her tuition at Ivy Tech. She also testified she was in a relationship with the child’s father who provided support for the child as she requested.

“While a finding that a child placed herself outside the care or control of her parents cannot be based solely on the fact that she gave birth to a child, that fact, when taken in conjunction with others, may support such a finding. That is the case here,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the panel.
 
“At nineteen, K.S. is a mother. She continues to have a romantic relationship with her child’s father, who provides supplies for the child as requested by K.S. In addition, K.S. applied for, and receives, some governmental assistance. She refuses a relationship with her own father and denies her father a relationship with his grandson. These decisions are those of an adult not under the care or control of either parent. The trial court did not err in finding that K.S. put herself outside her parents’ care or control,” Vaidik wrote.

The father also raised a point about Public Law 111-2012, which will change the age for termination of child support from 21 to 19 on July 1. The court didn’t rule on the father’s claim that the law would have automatically emancipated his daughter, but it used this case to point out an exception and offer guidance and a warning.

“Although Public Law 111-2012 will modify the presumptive age for termination of child support, it will not alter a child’s ability to obtain educational support — with one important exception. It will amend the time frame in which certain children may seek educational support,” the opinion said.

“Since designating support as ‘educational’ support was often not vital before 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. Thus, obligors who believe that their support obligation will terminate under the new legislation on July 1 would be wise to seek legal advice instead of unilaterally stopping support payments. To do otherwise risks a finding of contempt and possible criminal sanctions for failing to pay support.”


 

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