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Lawyers’ divorce battle divides COA on joint custody ruling

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A lengthy divorce proceeding involving two Fort Wayne attorneys that raised numerous issues on appeal was mostly affirmed Tuesday, but a dissenting judge cautioned that joint custody was not in the interest of the of the feuding parents’ daughter.

Phillip J. and Tracy L. Troyer’s divorce involved more than four days of hearings in Allen Superior Court, and the final decree contained extensive findings including joint custody of the couple’s child and equal division of marital assets. The 35-page case is Phillip J. Troyer v. Tracy L. Troyer, 02A03-1207-DR-319.

The husband appealed and wife cross-appealed, and the Court of Appeals majority ruled as follows: “(1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in valuing and dividing the marital estate; (2) the trial court exceeded its statutory authority in retroactively increasing Husband’s child support and healthcare expenses; (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Husband’s petition for attorney fees; (4) the trial court did fail to rule on Husband’s request for Wife to reimburse him for her share of (the child’s) private school expenses; (5) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding the parties joint legal custody of K.T.; and (6) Husband’s appeal is neither frivolous nor in bad faith, and therefore Wife is not entitled to attorney fees pursuant to Appellate Rule 66(E).”

“We reverse the trial court’s retroactive modification of Husband’s child support and healthcare expenses and remand with instructions to amend the Final Decree accordingly,” Judge Terry Crone wrote in the majority opinion joined by Judge Elaine Brown. “On remand, the trial court shall also amend the Final Decree to include an order directing Wife to reimburse Husband for her share of K.T.’s private school expenses pursuant to the Provisional Order. In all other respects, we affirm the trial court.”

Judge James Kirsch sided with the majority in all aspects except for the custody ruling. Kirsch said the court was correct in ruling that the child’s best interests would be served by parents working together in a unified manner.

“There is nothing in the record before us, however, that reveals that the trial court’s statement was supported by the evidence or was a realistic expectation. Rather, the record repeatedly demonstrates that these parents cannot currently work together in such a manner,” Kirsch wrote.

“Here, the trial court: determined, and Husband agreed, that no parenting time should be currently allocated to Husband because that would ‘endanger’ (the child’s) physical health or significantly impair her emotional development; ‘seriously considered’ ordering parents to participate in classes for ‘high conflict parents’ and in individual and joint counseling; considered therapeutic parenting time; and appointed a Parenting Coordinator to provide support, assistance, and guidance. Given these very real and very serious concerns, it was error to order joint custody,” Kirsch wrote.

“Moreover, following the dissolution, Husband filed a grievance with the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission against Wife ensuring that the adversarial nature of his relationship with the Wife will be continued,” he wrote in his two-page dissent. “I would reverse the trial court’s decision to grant parents joint legal custody.”

 

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