Award of attorney fees reversed in child-support dispute

September 9, 2014

The ex-wife in a child-support dispute was improperly awarded a portion of her attorney fees after the trial court rejected her ex-husband’s petition to modify child support.

The Indiana Court of Appeals Tuesday ruled that Lawrence Circuit Judge Andrea K. McCord erred in ordering Robert O. Hedrick to pay $1,000 of Angela Gilbert’s legal fees as part of a contempt order. The court also fined Hedrick $500.

Judge John Baker wrote for the panel that also affirmed the denial of Hedrick’s motion to modify post-secondary educational support and affirmed the contempt order issued for Hedrick’s failure to comply with a prior court order to pay his share of a child’s college expenses.

“Under these circumstances, we find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding Hedrick to be in contempt of court and imposing a $500 fee as a consequence,” Baker wrote in Robert O. Hedrick v. Angela R. Gilbert, 47A01-1401-DR-1. But the panel concluded that the contempt order’s award of attorney fees to Gilbert as a sanction was unwarranted under I.C. 34-52-1-1.

"In this case, the trial court made no findings that Hedrick’s petition to modify was frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless, nor did it find that Hedrick’s continued litigation of his claims became frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless,” Baker wrote. “Likewise, there was no finding that he litigated the action in bad faith. The trial court merely found that the litigation was ‘lengthy,’ which does not meet the statutory criteria for an award of attorney fees.”


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