Trial Court Erred When It “Quasi-emancipated” a 17-year-old Child

Family Law Case Review

Case: Ginger Moell v. Stephen R. Moell
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Trial court erred when it “quasi-emancipated” a 17-year-old child who was a subject of a pending petition to modify parenting time between his divorced parents.

FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Mother and Father divorced in 2012, with two children. The parties reached a settlement agreement on all children’s issues.

The following year, Father remarried and moved 45 minutes away. The relocation, especially the new amount of travel time required to follow the parenting time schedule, caused significant stresses and disagreement. In 2015, Father filed a petition to modify parenting time.

At the time of the hearing, the parties’ children were 17 and 14 years of age.  As to the 17-year-old, the trial court ordered that he would have discretion to determine his own parenting times schedule, health care decisions, participation in school and extracurricular activities, as well as his religious participation. Mother appealed.

The Court of Appeals noted that the trial court’s order did not formally emancipate the 17-year-old, as could occur pursuant to Ind. Code 31-16-6-6.  The Court observed that the trial court took this step of “quasi-emancipation,” yet made no changes to the parents’ obligations to support the child, though it is unclear that would have changed the outcome of the case.  The Court of Appeals also noted the constitutional implications of the right to parent a child. While the Court was sympathetic to the judicial economy that may have been served by accelerating a process that would occur soon on its own as the child aged, and that the child appeared to be very mature, the orders regarding the older child were reversed and remanded.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Ginger Moell v. Stephen R. Moell

 

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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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