Family Law Case Review: Alexander v. Alexander – Child Support Termination

Case: Brenda Alexander v. Donald Alexander
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Trial court erred when it denied Father’s petition to terminate child support for his 19-year-old son, which Father filed based upon the 2012 statutory change that lowered the support termination age from 21 to 19. A specific provision in the parties’ Decree – expressly providing that child support would terminate at 21 – did not control over the new statute.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Father and Mother were divorced in 2000. Their Decree included a child support obligation for their son: Father would pay child support “until the child reaches 21 years of age, or is married, leaves home or is emancipated.” In July, 2012, after the statutory change reducing the support termination age from 21 to 19 took effect, Father filed a petition to terminate child support for the parties’ son, who had recently turned 19.

After a hearing, the trial court denied Father’s petition, concluding that even though the language in the Decree that support would last until age 21 was likely “boilerplate,” it was nevertheless controlling. Father appealed.

The Court of Appeals reviewed last year’s legislative changes to the child support statute. While noting that parties may enter into enforceable obligations in a Decree by agreement that the trial court could not order on its own (e.g., alimony), here the trial court abused its discretion by not terminating Father’s child support obligation. The Court of Appeals concluded that the language in the Decree providing that support would last until age 21 evidenced nothing more than the Decree’s intention to track the statute, which subsequently changed.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s order, and remanded the matter with instructions that the trial court enter an order terminating Father’s child support obligation as of July 1, 2012.

[Important note: Father did not file his petition to terminate child support until July 12, 2012, yet the Court of Appeals’ instructions on remand provided that support be terminated retroactively to the date the statute modification became effective, July 1. Thus, it appears that, despite the general prohibition against child support being modified retroactively beyond the date a petition to modify is filed, a parent in the same situation as the Father here is entitled to a retroactive modification back to the statute’s effective date, regardless of when the petition is filed.] 

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: David A. Turner v. Debbie L. Turner

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The Indiana Family Law Update is a free service provided by Bingham Greenebaum Doll, LLP. While significant efforts are made to ensure an accurate summary and reproduction of each opinion, readers are advised to verify all content and analysis with a traditional case law reporter before relying on the content and analysis offered here.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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