‘Quasi-emancipation’ presents matter of first impression for COA

Although the Indiana Court of Appeals sympathized with a trial court’s effort to reduce the stress on two brothers caused by their feuding divorced parents, the appellate panel still found the lower court overstepped its authority.

Lake Superior Court found N.M., the oldest son of Ginger Moell and her ex-husband Stephen Moell, to be a “mature, level-headed young man” who would turn 18 in six months. As such, the court allowed him to determine how much time he spends with each parent, which religious and extracurricular activities he should pursue and make all decisions about his health care.

Before the Court of Appeals, Ginger Moell characterized the trial court’s order as a “quasi-emancipation.” She argued it was not based on any evidence that N.M. was emotionally or financially equipped to make the kind of decisions the court imposed on him.

However, Stephen Moell countered the decision was an exercise of judicial economy because the court was saving time and resources by preventing further litigation since N.M. would reach age 18 in a few months.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the mother in deciding a matter of first impression. Reviewing the state’s emancipation statute, the unanimous panel pointed out the trial court allowed N.M. could make his own decisions about how he would spend his time even though he was still dependent on his parents for financial support, did not live on his own or have a job.

“While the trial court’s order did not amount to emancipation as contemplated in Indiana Code section 31-16-6-6, we are still troubled by the implications of allowing a minor, regardless of age and maturity, carte blanche in making decisions regarding his life while his parents are still legally bound to support him financially,” Judge Melissa May wrote in Ginger Moell v. Stephen R. Moell, 45A05-1704-DR-784.

The Court of Appeals ruled the trial court’s order regarding N.M. contradicted the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines. It reversed the order and remanded for further proceedings. In addition, the appellate court also affirmed the lower court’s decision to vacate the parties’ original settlement agreements regarding their children’s care and the decision to modify Stephen Moell’s parenting time with N.M.  

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining
{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining Article limit resets on
{{ count_down }}