COA: Mom owes no college funds after child’s repudiation

A mother whose infidelity led to divorce and what a trial court called a “deep, seemingly bottomless rift between the children and Mother” owes a daughter no support with college expenses because the child repudiated their relationship.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling of the St. Joseph Superior Court that determined Dawn Marie Messner was not required to provide support for post-secondary educational expenses to her daughter, Riley, who she learned during mediation began attending Azusa Pacific University in California in fall 2017.

Dawn’s then-husband Thomas Messner filed for divorce in September 2014, after the couple separated after Thomas was presented evidence of her infidelity, the record says. At some point that year, he and his children met with Dawn in a restaurant and gave her an ultimatum to end her relationship with her new partner or have no future relationship with her children.

From that point forward, Dawn attempted to communicate with Riley through texts and through other children, and Dawn provided gifts for major holidays and Riley’s birthday. Riley almost never responded, the record says, and after Dawn was denied joint custody in 2016, father later moved for mother to contribute to Riley’s educational expenses.

But at a hearing, Riley said she didn’t desire a relationship with her mother and she believed her mother wasn’t ready, calling her mom’s new relationship “disgusting.”

Based on this evidence, the trial court held that Riley had repudiated her relationship with her mother and found Dawn therefore was relieved from contributing to Riley’s college expenses.

The COA affirmed Friday in Thomas Virgil Messner v. Dawn Marie Messner, 18A-DR-1110. 

“Father argues … that the trial court ‘did not look to whether [Mother] bore some responsibility for the strained relationship between her and not only Riley, but also her other children,’” Judge Patricia Riley wrote for the panel. “… However, Father acknowledges that the trial court found that Mother had not been a model parent and that Riley’s repudiation may be entirely understandable. Father essentially argues that, where both parties share the blame for the deterioration of their relationship, a trial court should not excuse the repudiated parent from contribution towards college expenses.

“On appeal, Father acknowledges that no existing Indiana precedent expressly supports his argument. We decline to accept Father’s proposed addition to the body of repudiation jurisprudence. Father’s argument might have some merit if there was a presumption of parental contribution towards a child’s college expenses; however, no such presumption exists.”

The panel concluded that the trial court applied the correct legal standard in assessing the evidence, which supported its determination that Riley repudiated her relationship with her mother.

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