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Termination of Child Support

Sexton v. Sexton (Ind. Ct. App. June 8, 2012)

In this case, a mother appealed the trial court’s order finding that her daughter, K.S., was emancipated. This case is the Court of Appeals’ first opportunity to discuss Public Law 111-2012, which will change the presumptive age for termination of child support from twenty-one to nineteen, effective July 1, 2012.

First, the Court noted that although the new statute changes the presumptive age for termination of child support, the statute does not change a child’s ability to receive educational support (children can receive educational support past their twenty-first birthdays). The Court explained that trial courts will need to determine on a case-by-case basis whether support is “educational support.” The Court then issued some very pointed advice to parents who believe their child-support obligations will cease under the new statute: such parents “would be wise to seek legal advice instead of unilaterally stopping support payments. To do otherwise risks a finding of contempt and possible criminal sanctions for failing to pay support.”

Second, the Court held the amended emancipation statute does not apply retroactively; parents may not receive reimbursement for payments previously made for children over nineteen years old. This holding is consistent with general law regarding retroactivity; statutes are generally retroactive only when they are remedial (intended to cure a defect in a prior statute).

Finally, in a footnote, the Court recognized that it is not clear whether Public Law 111-2012 will affect existing obligations that exist under dissolution agreements or judgments. The Court recognized that this question implicates Article 1 Section 24 of the Indiana Constitution, which states: “No ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts, shall ever be passed.” As the Court’s footnote implies, parents who are paying support pursuant to agreements entered into or judgments entered when the presumptive age for child support to end was 21 may attempt to escape the effect of the agreements or judgments based on the new law. It will be interesting to see how courts deal with this issue.

The Court also addressed the mother’s argument that her daughter was not outside the care or control of her parents and should not have been emancipated. The facts that supported the trial court’s decision were that K.S. had given birth to a child, continued to have a relationship with the child’s father, received some governmental assistance, and refused to have a relationship with her own father. The Court recognized that although giving birth to a child is not a sufficient reason to find that a child is emancipated, that circumstance may be considered with other evidence to support a finding that the child is not under the care or control of either parent and should therefore be emancipated. This holding is not new law, but does provide some additional clarification of facts that can support emancipation.

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