Daughter’s cheating negates father’s obligation to pay for college

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Finding that the “F” a Purdue University student received after her teacher discovered the student plagiarized comments from other students amounted to disciplinary action from the school, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the decision that her father no longer had to pay a portion of her school expenses based on a previous court order.

Larracuenta Panfil and Ralph Fell, who have two children together, divorced in March 2004. At a 2012 hearing on Fell’s weekly child support obligation, the court’s order provided that his obligation to pay post-secondary educational expenses is dependent upon his daughter K.F. maintaining a 2.1 grade point average and not being placed on probation or being subject to any disciplinary action for violation of school rules or policies.

Two years later he sought to quit paying her school expenses because he alleged she cheated in a history course and as a result of the cheating, failed and received an overall GPA of 1.93. K.F. took an online history course and she plagiarized comments from other students. If not for her cheating, she would have done fairly well in the class. The teacher met with her and decided to fail her and allow her to take the class again. The cheating was not reported to Purdue University. But K.F. testified her GPA was 2.34 at this time even with the failing grade.

The trial court granted Fell’s motion, noting K.F.’s behavior is clearly the type she was put on notice as having the potential to relieve her father of any obligation to contribute to her college expenses.

The COA agreed with Fell that the punitive grade is a disciplinary action pursuant to Purdue regulations, based on its student handbook. The fact that the instructor and university did not pursue a formal action against the daughter is not dispositive, Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the majority in Larracuenta R. Panfil v. Ralph E. Fell, 71A04-1404-DR-183.

Judge Michael Barnes concurred in a separate opinion reluctantly and begrudgingly. He did not believe the daughter’s transgression rises to the level of an offense that would end Fell’s support obligation.

“Unfortunately for K.F., however, it does so because of the broad wording of the trial court’s 2012 order and K.F.’s conduct, which she does not dispute. Although Father’s apparent exuberance to get out from underneath his support obligation is troublesome, I must agree with the majority that the result is legally mandated, but practically repugnant,” he wrote.

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