In deciding whether a father's child support requirement should be modified or ended, the Indiana Court of Appeals refused to adopt new reasoning that any child attending college could be deemed emancipated if that child didn't live in the custodial parent's home.
The unanimous ruling came in Nevin Tew v. Beverly Tew, No. 02A03-0911-CV-529, which affirmed a judgment out of Allen Superior Judge Charles Pratt and Magistrate Lori Morgan's courtroom.
The father appealed the trial court's order denying his 2009 petition seeking a declaration that M.T., his then-18-year-old daughter born in 1986, be emancipated or alternatively that his child support obligation be modified. The Tews had been married between 1982 and 2003, and the mother was awarded custody of M.T. while the father had parenting time and child support payments. The custody arrangement changed in 2005 and the father received custody of the youngest daughter, though the mom later regained custody. Over time, communication between that daughter and the father dwindled.
A year ago, the father filed a petition saying he should no longer be obligated to pay child support for M.T. because she should be deemed emancipated or that she'd repudiated her relationship with him. The older daughter had previously been emancipated, but her status wasn't at issue in the case.
Analyzing the emancipation law provisions in Indiana Code Section 30-16-6-6(a)(3) and (b)(3), the appellate court affirmed the lower ruling and found the trial court didn't err in either denying the father's request to modify the child support obligation or determining that M.T. hadn't repudiated her relationship with the father for emancipation.
The trial court record specifically showed evidence that the father-daughter relationship was still intact, the appellate panel decided.
But the father had specifically argued that she wasn't under the control of either parent because she lived in an apartment with her boyfriend while enrolled full-time in community college. Though M.T. had a part-time job, the trial court determined that she wasn't capable of supporting herself without the parents' help – the mother paid M.T.'s share of the rent and car insurance, as well as school supplies and medication. The father argued that M.T. should have to live with her mother, and that might reduce the need for the existing child support payment level.
Denying that argument, the appellate judges wrote in a footnote, "We note that were we to accept Father's claim in this regard, we would set precedent that any child who attended a post-secondary education institution, whether said institution be near the custodial parent's home or hours away, could be deemed emancipated if the child did not reside in the parent's home. Clearly this is not the legislature's intent."