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Allen v. Allen

Supreme Court of Indiana

June 1, 2016

DAVID P. ALLEN, Appellant (Petitioner below),
KIMBERLY W. ALLEN, Appellee (Respondent below)

          Appeal from the Crawford Circuit Court, No. 13C01-0201-DR-00009. The Honorable Kenneth Lynn Lopp, Judge.

         On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 13A01-1411-DR-00476.

         ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: Mark D. Johnson, Allen & Johnson, LLC, Salem, Indiana.

         ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: Matthew J. McGovern, Anderson, Indiana.

         David, Justice. Rush, C.J., Rucker, and Massa, J.J., concur.


         David, Justice.

         This case presents the question of whether a trial court may order that divorced parents be obligated to pay the graduate or professional school expenses of their adult children pursuant to the Indiana child support statutes. While the statutory provision at issue provides for payment of " postsecondary" educational expenses, the term postsecondary is undefined. Today we hold that the term " postsecondary," as used in the provision permitting an award for postsecondary educational expenses, does not include graduate or professional school expenses.

         Facts and Procedural History

         David Allen (Father) and Kimberly Allen (Mother) divorced in 2002. The parties agreed to share custody of their two children, with Father paying child support to Mother. The parties' settlement agreement and dissolution decree did not provide for payment of college expenses. In 2010, the parties agreed to an order whereby basic child support for their daughter, Hunter, was terminated, Father became responsible for Hunter's undergraduate educational expenses, and Mother became responsible for providing Hunter's health insurance.

         In 2013, shortly before Hunter's 21st birthday, when Hunter was a senior at Indiana University, Father petitioned the court for modification of the agreed order. Father advised the court that Hunter was considering post-graduate education in dental school and Father requested, among other things, an order regarding Hunter's graduate educational expenses. Specifically, he sought to have Hunter's dental school expenses apportioned between him and Mother.

         The trial court held two evidentiary hearings and entered an order in October 2014. With regard to Hunter's educational needs, the trial court found that Hunter graduated from IU with a degree in biology with highest distinction and that she scored in the 97th percentile on the Dental School Admission Test. It further found that Hunter was accepted into the IU dental school, where the expenses of attending are approximately $75,000 annually and that she had started attending summer classes at the IU dental school to begin her graduate education.

         As for the parents' financial situations, the trial court found that Mother had assets of approximately $843,000 and a weekly income of approximately $1,700. It found that Father had a net worth of over $2 million and access to significant real property, personal property, bank accounts and business interests. It also found that while Father earned approximately $101,000 in 2013, he was capable of generating approximately $4,600 per week. Accordingly, the trial court ordered that the 2010 agreement between the parties was to remain in effect. Thus, Father is responsible for the cost of dental school for Hunter (less any contribution from Hunter through grants, scholarship, loans, etc.) and Mother is responsible for Hunter's health insurance.

         Father appealed, arguing, among other things, that the trial court erred in not determining each parent's presumptive share of educational expenses according to the Child Support Guidelines. Mother cross-appealed, arguing that the trial court did not have statutory authority to enter an educational award for graduate school expenses. The Court of Appeals reversed, agreeing with Father that the trial court erred by essentially making Father liable for all dental school expenses that Hunter does not otherwise cover. Allen v. Allen, 38 N.E.3d 229, [slip op.] at *7-8 (Ind.Ct.App. 2015). It rejected Mother's cross-appeal argument that the trial court lacks authority to order parents to pay for their child's graduate school expenses. 38 N.E.3d 229, Id. at *6. The Court of Appeals remanded the matter to the trial court for an order that apportions dental school expenses between Father, Mother and Hunter. 38 N.E.3d 229, Id. at *8.

         The Court of Appeals denied Mother's petition for rehearing. Mother then sought transfer, which we granted, thereby vacating the opinion below. See Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A).

         Standard ...

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