Daughter Caught Cheating so Father Does Not Have to Contribute to Post-Secondary Education

Case: Larracuenta R. Panfil v. Ralph E. Fell
Case Summary by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Trial court acted within its discretion when it ordered that Father was no longer required to contribute to Daughter’s post-secondary educational expenses because Daughter was caught cheating.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Mother and Father divorced in 2004. The Decree included a college expense provision, requiring that Daughter would be responsible for 1/3 and each parent responsible for 1/3 of college expenses.

In 2012, Father filed a petition requesting a finding of repudiation of the relationship by Daughter. After a hearing, where the trial court there had not been a complete refusal by Daughter to engage in the parent-child relationship, the court denied Father’s motion for a finding of repudiation. However, the trial court modified the college expense provision of the Decree to make Father’s contribution dependent upon Daughter maintaining a 2.1 GPA or being subject to any disciplinary violations.

In early 2014, citing the above provision, Father filed a motion to terminate his obligation to contribute to college based upon Daughter being caught cheating at university and having an overall GPA of only 1.93. After a hearing, at which contradictory evidence was presented about Daughter’s GPA, the trial court granted Father’s motion to relieve his obligation to contribute to Daughter’s college based upon the cheating incident. Mother appealed.

Mother’s appeal focused on whether Daughter being caught cheating constituted a “disciplinary action,” since the matter was handled by the course instructor – who gave Daughter an “F,” and a chance to retake the class — but the university was never formally involved in the incident. The Court of Appeals did not find Mother’s argument compelling, concluding that Daughter’s “F” was discipline for having cheated. The Court concluded that the trial court relieving Father of his prior duty to contribute to Daughter’s post-secondary educational expenses was within its discretion.

Judge Barnes wrote separately to concur with the judgment, but to express his belief that, while the outcome of the case was required under the law, he did not believe that a single episode of cheating – while it certainly should not be condoned – warranted terminating Father’s obligation to contribute to Daughter’s college expenses.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Larracuenta R. Panfil v. Ralph E. Fell

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James A. Reed and Michael R. Kohlhaas of Bingham Greenebaum Doll represent clients in a wide spectrum of relationship transition and wealth planning matters, including premarital agreements, estate planning, cohabitation, separation, divorce (especially involving high net worth individuals and/or complex asset issues), custody, parenting arrangements, adoption, and domestic partnerships. Bingham Greenebaum Doll, a multidisciplinary law firm serving regional, national, and international clients, is the fourth-largest law firm in Indiana. The firm’s main practices include corporate, property, litigation, labor, government law, and personal services law. Visit the firm’s website at www.bgdlegal.com.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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