By Emily J. Barry
The presumptive age for termination for a non-custodial parent to pay child support in Indiana will be lowered, in most cases, to 19, effective July 1. Prior to July 1, Indiana’s support obligation continued until age 21.
Additionally, child support was treated as an obligation distinguishable from post-secondary (or college) expenses, meaning, that while child support may be eligible to be lowered for a non-custodial parent based on college expenses, if possible, a non-custodial parent may also be ordered to contribute to college expenses.
Now, the Indiana legislature has modified the child support obligation portion of a non-custodial parent’s duty to financially support their children above the age of majority.
A non-custodial parent may also be obligated to provide educational needs. However, the time frame is more limited for a child (or custodial parent) to petition the court for the child's "educational needs."
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Recently, in an unpublished Court of Appeals case, the court held that support may be deemed educational and advised consulting an attorney prior to unilaterally ceasing child support payments as educational support may be continue past the age of 19 (see generally Sexton v. Sexton).
Currently, child support and education expenses are two separate obligations for children. However, with this new case, the Court of Appeals somewhat muddies the waters on what is child support versus a contribution to education expenses.
Pursuant to the new statute, a child who is receiving support under an order for support before July 1, 2012, may request the court issue an order for "educational needs" until the age of 21. Under this scenario, child support may terminate automatically at 19, but should the child elect to enroll in higher education, they may petition the court for assistance for educational needs.
Additionally, as the legislature chose the language "educational needs," this could arguably include children over the age of majority who are working to obtain their GED or complete their high school diploma.
For children who are receiving support after June 30, 2012, these children only have until age 19 to request contributions for educational needs. Again, this begs the question about the language of “educational needs,” which the trial court must determine on a case-by-case basis.
In many cases, the child support obligation itself will likely terminate at 19, unless the child is incapacitated, but the "educational needs" of the child may be assessed until age 19 or 21 depending on the time of the support obligation. As the courts continue to adjudicate petitions for emancipation, further insight into the definitions and determinations of educational needs will be revealed.
Given the intricacies of the new statute, recent interpretations of the statute by the Court of Appeals, and the corresponding implications on a non-custodial parent’s obligation to pay support, it is advisable to consult a mens divorce attorney before terminating child support payments in order to assess possible contempt issues and repercussions.