Family Case Law Study: Lechien v. Wren

Case: Robin (Wren) Lechien v. Michael W. Wren

Case Summary – by Mike Kohlhaas (with thanks to Kathleen Rudis)

HELD: The Indiana Court of Appeals held that while repudiation may obviate a parent’s obligation to pay certain expenses, such as higher educational support, it is not a release of a parent’s financial responsibility for the payment of child support and is not an acceptable justification to abate support payments for a child less than twenty-one years of age.  The Court further held that when a child is not living away from home, the non-custodial parent’s support obligation would generally not be reduced, even if the child is simultaneously attending college.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Father and Mother were married and had two children. Daughter was born in 1987 and Son was born in 1991. Mother filed a petition for dissolution of marriage in 1999, and the trial court entered a decree of dissolution in 2000. The court awarded physical custody of both children to Mother.  Then, in 2008, the court entered a nunc pro tunc order that Mother’s maiden name be restored to her. Also in 2008, the court ordered Father to pay child support for Son in the amount of $177 per week.  In 2009, Son filed a petition to have his last name changed from Father’s last name to Mother’s maiden name.  During the hearing on his request, Son acknowledged that by changing his name a judge could later decide that he was repudiating Father and that he did not want any help from Father and that support could end.

In 2010, Mother filed a Petition to Modify and Request for a Higher Educational Support Order in which she alleged that Son would be living with her while attending college at IUPUI and requested a modification of support and a higher educational support order allocating the college expense between Father, Mother, and Son. After conducting a hearing, the trial court entered an order containing its findings and conclusions.  The trial court found that Son and Father had a troubled relationship since the divorce, with Father having intermittent parenting time and none since 2008.  The trial court also found that in spite of the Judge’s warning of the possible adverse effects of the requested name change upon receiving college money from Father, Son still caused his name to be changed to Mother’s maiden name.  Pursuant to Indiana case law, the trial court concluded that Son had repudiated Father and was not entitled to college expense contribution from Father.  The trial court further concluded that Father’s duty to pay child support should be modified, and Father was order to pay $69.00 per week for son.

Mother appealed the trial court’s order, raising two issues: 1) whether the evidence supported the trial court’s determination that Son repudiated his relationship with Father; and 2) whether the trial court erred in modifying Father’s weekly child support obligation.  The Court reviewed to determine whether the trial court’s decision was clearly erroneous.

Upon review, the Court found that the evidence supported the trial court’s conclusion that Son repudiated his relationship with Father.  The Court then found that while Indiana law recognizes that a child’s repudiation of a parent under certain circumstances will obviate a parent’s obligation to pay certain expenses, any such repudiation is not a release of parent’s financial responsibility to the payment of child support.  The Court concluded that repudiation was not an acceptable justification to abate support payments for a child less than twenty-one years of age.

The child support worksheets Mother presented to the trial court did not show any adjustment due to the fact that Son would be attending college while living at home with her.  This contrasted Father’s arguments before the trial court, which stated that Son would only be at home nineteen weeks a year if he was a traditional campus student, and that Father should receive credit accordingly.  The Court noted that the child support worksheet attached to the trial court’s order indicated Father received credit based on Son living at home for nineteen weeks instead of fifty-two weeks per year.  The Court observed that the Indiana Child Support Guidelines 3(G) and 8 expressly state that a parent’s basic child support obligation will be reduced if or when the child is living away from home.  However, the Court held that when a child is not living away from home or resides with the custodial parent, then the support obligation would generally not be reduced.  The Court determined that such a result was not inconsistent with Ind. Code 31-16-6-2, which is applicable when the court orders support for post-secondary educational expenses and provides for a reduction of child support to the extent it is duplicated by a support order.  Because support was not ordered for post-secondary educational expenses, the Court determined that no part of Father’s child support obligation could be duplicated.

Based upon the record and the Support Guidelines, the Court concluded that the trial court erred in adjusting Father’s support obligation and in noting in its worksheet that Son would be residing with Mother for nineteen instead of fifty-two weeks per year. The Court found this result was consistent with the general duty of a parent to provide support for a child until the child is twenty-one years old, and as previously stated repudiation was not a release of a parent’s financial responsibility for the payment of child support and was not an acceptable justification to abate support payments for a child less than twenty-one years of age.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s determination that Son repudiated his relationship with Father, reversed the court’s modification of Father’s child support obligation from $177.00 to $69.00, and remand with instructions to enter a child support order consistent with its opinion.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Robin (Wren) Lechien v. Michael W. Wren

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