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Patton v. Patton

Court of Appeals of Indiana

December 11, 2015

Wayne Patton, Appellant-Respondent,
v.
Jessica Patton, Appellee-Petitioner

          Appeal from the DeKalb Superior Court. The Honorable Monte L. Brown, Judge. Cause No. 17D02-1107-DR-191.

         ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: Adam C. Squiller, Squiller & Harley, Auburn, Indiana.

         ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Douglas E. Johnston, Angelica N. Fuelling, Tourkow, Crell, Rosenblatt & Johnston, LLP, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

         Bradford, Judge. Baker, J., and Pyle, J., concur.

          OPINION

         Bradford, Judge.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] Appellant-Respondent Wayne Patton (" Father" ) and Appellee-Petitioner Jessica Patton (" Mother" ) were divorced in January of 2013. Mother was granted sole legal and physical custody of the couple's son W.P., born on February 9, 2007. Since 2011, Father's visitation with W.P. has been supervised, and in 2012, Father was convicted of child seduction for fondling the breasts of his teenage daughter, who, incidentally, is now emancipated. In 2014, Father moved to modify parenting time with W.P. and child support, seeking to have the supervision requirement lifted and his support obligation reduced to reflect the fact that one of three children was now emancipated.

         [¶2] Mother requested that a psychological evaluation of Father be performed, after which the evaluator found indications of defensiveness and poor judgment and decision-making. The evaluator also expressed doubts regarding Father's psychological functioning. Following a hearing, the trial court denied Father's motion for modification of visitation and child support obligation. Because we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to alter Father's child support obligation, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand with instructions.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] Father was born on May 24, 1972, and, at some point, married Mother, with whom he had three children--daughters Ja.P. and Ju.P. and son W.P., who was born on February 9, 2007. On July 19, 2011, Mother petitioned for the dissolution of her marriage to Father. In July of 2011, Father was granted supervised visitation with W.P. at the Children's First Center in Auburn. In 2012, Father was convicted of child seduction for fondling Ja.P.'s breasts when she was sixteen years old. Father was initially ordered to pay $207.00 per week in child support, which was modified by order of the trial court to $160.00 per week on March 26, 2013.

         [¶4] On July 3, 2014, Father petitioned for modification of visitation and child support, seeking removal of the supervision requirement and reduction of his support obligation. At some point, Mother requested a psychological evaluation for Father, which clinical and forensic psychologist Stephen Ross, Psy.D., performed. Dr. Ross interviewed Father and reviewed various documents regarding Father's supervised visitation with W.P., his placement on the Indiana Sex Offender Registry following his child seduction conviction, and copies of excerpts from comic books Father had given to W.P. during visitation. Dr. Ross also performed a battery of psychological tests on Father.

         [¶5] On January 13, 2015, Dr. Ross issued his report. Dr. Ross noted that Father's " defensiveness" compromised the validity of some of the testing. Appellant's Addendum p. 5. Dr. Ross also considered the comics Father gave to W.P. to be inappropriate, depicting satanic-like figures and containing references to " 'half naked pictures of Brittney Spears', and other sexually explicit references." Appellant's Addendum p. 6. Dr. Ross opined that he was " not so certain about [Father's] psychological functioning" and that if Father did, in fact, provide W.P. with the comic books in question, " this would be an indication of poor judgment and decision-making on his part." Appellant's Addendum p. 6. Dr. Ross explicitly endorsed neither unsupervised nor supervised visitation but did recommend that Father and W.P. meet with a professional counselor in the event the trial court ordered unsupervised visitation.

         [¶6] On January 14, 2015, the trial court held a hearing on Father's motions. At the hearing, Father argued, inter alia, that his child support obligation should be modified because Ja.P. was emancipated, which represented a substantial and continuing change in circumstances. Mother argued that although Ja.P. was legally emancipated, she was still living with Mother and was in college. On February 27, 2015, the trial court issued its order, which provided as follows:

ORDER
On January 14, 2015, Petitioner, Jessica Patton, appeared in person and by counsel, Douglas E. Johnston, and Respondent, Wayne Patton, appeared in person and by counsel, Adam C. Squiller, for hearing on Respondent's Motion To Modify Parenting Time and Support filed July 3, 2014. The State of Indiana appeared by DeKalb County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, Donald P. Shively. Hearing held and evidence received.
Based on the record of the proceeding, the Court now FINDS, ORDERS, ADJUDGES, AND DECREES:

         

1. That the parties herein were granted a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage on the 7th day of January, 2013.
2. That pursuant to said Decree, Petitioner was granted the sole legal and physical custody of the minor children and Respondent was granted parenting time with [W.P.] on a restricted and supervised basis through ...

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