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Neal v. Austin

Court of Appeals of Indiana

October 31, 2014

MICHAEL DWAIN NEAL, Appellant-Respondent,
v.
AMANDA LEE AUSTIN, Appellee-Petitioner

APPEAL FROM THE MARION SUPERIOR COURT. The Honorable Robert R. Altice, Jr., Judge. The Honorable Kimberly Mattingly, Magistrate. Cause No. 49D05-0006-DR-830.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: JESSICA S. LACY, Law Office of Jessica S. Lacy, Indianapolis, Indiana.

ROBB, Judge. BAKER, J., and KIRSCH, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 574

ROBB, Judge

Case Summary and Issues

Michael Dwain Neal (" Father" ) appeals the trial court's grant of Amanda Austin's (" Mother" ) petition for post-secondary education expenses on behalf of their adult child, A.N. Father raises two issues for our review: (1) as a matter of first impression, whether the trial court had authority under Indiana Code section 31-16-6-6 to issue an order for payment of educational support for a child who had reached the age of nineteen, where the parties' original child support order was issued in August of 2000 but the most recent order concerning child support was issued after June 30, 2012; and (2) whether the amount of post-secondary education support ordered by the trial court was an abuse of discretion. Concluding the trial court did not have authority to issue an order for educational support, we reverse.[1]

Facts and Procedural History

Mother and Father divorced in August of 2000, and they share two children, K.N. and A.N. At the time of their divorce, the parties entered into a settlement agreement (" Settlement Agreement" ) approved by the trial court. That Settlement Agreement contained provisions imposing a duty on Father to pay child support in the amount of $200 per week. The Settlement Agreement did not mention post-secondary education expenses.

Page 575

On July 17, 2012, the trial court approved an agreed order submitted by the parties (the " Agreed Order" ). At that time, K.N. and A.N. were twenty and seventeen years old, respectively. The Agreed Order recognized the emancipation by operation of law of K.N., who was then over the age of nineteen.[2] The Agreed Order also included a modification of custody of A.N. and a modification of Father's child support obligation, decreasing the amount owed to $75 per week.

A.N. turned nineteen years old on January 30, 2014, and thus, A.N. was emancipated by law on that date. On January 31, 2014, Father filed his Verified Petition for Emancipation and Immediate Termination of Child Support and Income Withholding. On February 28, 2014, Mother filed her Petition for Educational Expenses. Father filed a motion to dismiss Mother's petition, but the trial court denied Father's motion to dismiss.

On March 7, 2014, the trial court held a hearing on the parties' respective petitions. On March 14, 2014, the trial court issued an order requiring Father to be responsible for a portion of A.N.'s college education expenses. This appeal followed.

Discussion and Decision

I. Standard of Review

Initially, we note that no appellee's brief was filed on behalf of Mother or A.N. When an appellee does not file a brief in response, the court is not required to advance arguments on the appellee's behalf. Maurer v. Cobb-Maurer,994 N.E.2d 753, 755 (Ind.Ct.App. 2013). In such a circumstance, we may ordinarily reverse if the appellant presents a case of prima facie error. Id. However, even where an appellee brief is not filed, ...


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