Family Law Case Review: Deadline for College Expense Petition Age 19 or 21?

Case: Michael Dwain Neal v. Amanda Lee Austin
Case Summary by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: In determining whether the deadline is age 19 or age 21 for filing a petition for a college expense order, the dispositive factor is whether the most recent child support order was issued before or after July 1, 2012, not when the original order establishing a child support obligation was issued.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Mother and Father divorced in 2000, with two children. The agreement incorporated into the Decree established child support, but did not reference post-secondary educational expenses for the children.

On July 17, 2012, the trial court approved an Agreed Entry between the parties. At the time, the children were 20 and 17, respectively.  The Agreed Entry acknowledged the emancipation of the older child. The entry also modified custody and reduced Father’s weekly child support.

The younger child turned 19 on January 30, 2014. The following day, Father filed a petition for emancipation and to terminate his income withholding order. Mother responded with a petition for post-secondary educational expenses. Father moved to dismiss Mother’s petition for educational expenses, which the trial court denied. Following an evidentiary hearing, Father was ordered to contribute to the younger child’s college expenses, from which Father appealed.

The appeal focused on the statutory framework that addresses the deadline for filing a petition for college expenses in light of the recent lowering of Indiana’s weekly child support termination age from 21 to 19.

By statute, if a court established a duty to support a child prior to July 1, 2012, then the parent or child must file a petition for college expenses before the child turns 21. If, however, a court established a duty to support on or after July 1, 2012, then the college expense petition must be filed by the child’s 19th birthday.

In this case, the parties had their original Decree which established an obligation to support the children which was issued in 2000, prior to the July 1, 2012 deadline. However, their Agreed Entry – which modified child support – was issued after July 1, 2012. Father urged the statutory construction that, because the Agreed Entry was approved by the Court after July 1, 2012, then the deadline for a college expense petition should be 19. The Court of Appeals agreed with Father.

The Court developed the applicable rules of statutory construction and used those and the legislative history to hold that “where the most recent order establishing child support was issued after June 30, 2012, the child must file a petition for educational needs before the child becomes nineteen years of age.”

The trial court’s post-secondary educational expense order was reversed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Michael Dwain Neal v. Amanda Lee Austin

_________________________________________________________________________________

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

Leave a Reply