COA affirms custody for mom in Hamilton County divorce dispute

Joint custody was not a good idea for a splitting Carmel family, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded after finding that the arrangement would have been detrimental to the parties’ young child.

Appellate judges affirmed on Monday the Hamilton Superior Court’s final decree dissolving husband Srinivasulu Kakollu’s marriage to wife Sraina Sowmya Vadlamudi, concluding the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it found that joint legal custody was not in their daughter’s best interests and awarded Vadlamudi sole legal custody.

Issues in the family began before Vadlamudi filed for divorce in 2018, with the couple having a history of domestic violence and Vadlamudi having protective orders against her husband.

The trial court in its final dissolution decree concluded that despite the parents’ agreement that joint legal custody was the best route, sole legal custody and primary custody of their child should go to the mother until further order of the court. It likewise ordered the father to pay an “additional contribution to payment” of his ex-wife’s attorney’s fees of $60,000, among other things.

In its Monday affirmation of that ruling, the appellate court found no abuse of the trial court’s discretion in determining that joint legal custody was not in the child’s best interests.

“The trial court found that ‘these parties have displayed neither the willingness nor the ability to communicate and cooperate for the best interests’ of [Child].’ The evidence supports the trial court’s findings that the parties share a ‘warring attitude’ and a ‘penchant for permitting [Child] to see and hear their angry interactions[.],’” Judge Edward Najam wrote.

As to the exclusion of $50,000 from the marital pot that Kakollu paid for his ex-wife’s provisional attorney’s fees, the appellate court agreed there was no evidence Kakollu “use[d] marital assets for this payment[,]” which he made after the parties executed their agreed preliminary entry.

“Indeed, Husband has not shown that he paid the $50,000 from marital assets acquired prior to the date of final separation rather than from his own considerable income,” Najam wrote, acknowledging in a footnote that Kakollu earned over $1 million in 2017 and over $800,000 in 2018 as a dentist.

Finally, the appellate court had no issue with the trial court’s adoption of Vadlamudi’s expert’s valuation of husband’s dental businesses in Fort Wayne, Kokomo, Lafayette, Anderson and Carmel, as well as in Bloomington, Illinois. It held that the trial court’s valuation of his businesses was within the scope of the evidence and not clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances.

“As the trial court found, the combined value of the four operating locations before the marketability discount were close … . The trial court was not required to apply a marketability discount to the businesses,” it concluded. “The trial court did not err when it valued Husband’s businesses.”

The case is Srinivasulu Kakollu v. Sraina Sowmya Vadlamudi, 21A-DC-96.

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