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Baker v. Grout

Court of Appeals of Indiana

December 10, 2018

Cathy Lynn Baker, Appellant-Petitioner,
v.
Douglas L. Grout, Appellee-Respondent.

          Appeal from the Hamilton Superior Court Trial Court Cause No. 29D02-0410-DR-913 The Honorable Jonathan M. Brown, Judge

          Attorney for Appellant Daniel J. Zlatic Rubino, Ruman, Crosmer & Polen Dyer, Indiana

          Kirsch, Judge.

         [¶1] Cathy Lynn Baker ("Mother") appeals the trial court's order denying her petition for emancipation, termination of child support, and termination of income withholding. She raises two issues, of which we find the following dispositive: whether the trial court abused its discretion when it denied her petition to terminate child support.

         [¶2] We reverse and remand.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] Mother and Douglas L. Grout ("Father") were married, and their marriage was dissolved by a decree of dissolution in 2008. Mother and Father are the parents of one son, Nicholas Grout ("Nicholas"), who was born on July 13, 1999. Since February 8, 2016, Mother was ordered to pay child support for Nicholas in the amount of $133 per week. Appellant's App. Vol. II at 19. On June 13, 2018, Mother filed a "Verified Petition for Emancipation, Termination of Child Support, and Termination of Income Withholding Order," requesting that her child support be terminated on July 13, 2018 when Nicholas turned nineteen. Id. at 39-40.

         [¶4] A hearing was held on June 28, 2018, and the following evidence was presented. Nicholas would turn nineteen years old on July 13, 2018. Tr. Vol. II at 6. Nicholas had no disabilities of any sort. Id. Nicholas had been approved for a "Century 21 Scholarship Fund" ("the Scholarship") that would pay for four years of schooling at any school of his choice within the state of Indiana. Id. at 7. Nicholas was planning to attend Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis ("IUPUI"), starting as a freshman in August of 2018. Id. at 7, 8, 11. Nicholas did not have to take out any loans for college. Id. at 12. The evidence presented showed that the Scholarship, along with grants, covered Nicholas's cost of attending IUPUI for a student living at home. Resp't's Exs. A, B. Nicholas planned to live at Father's home while attending IUPUI. Tr. Vol. II at 13. Father testified that he was not asking for Mother to contribute to educational expenses if everything was being paid through grants and scholarships. Id. at 14. Mother testified that Nicholas qualified for four years of the Scholarship and that the Scholarship was not dependent on his grades, and he is entitled to the grants as long as he does not "flunk out" (less than a 1.0 G.P.A.) of school. Id. at 7, 16-17.

         [¶5] At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court denied Mother's petition and ordered her to continue to pay child support for Nicholas. Id. at 18-19; Appellant's App. Vol. II at 19-21. In its order denying Mother's petition, the trial court ordered Mother to pay child support beginning on August 17, 2018 in the amount of $52 per week and did not state when Mother's payment of child support would cease. Appellant's App. Vol. II at 19-21. Mother now appeals.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶6] Mother argues that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied her petition to terminate child support. Determinations of child support obligations are within the trial court's discretion and will not be set aside unless they are clearly erroneous. Turner v. Turner, 983 N.E.2d 643, 646 (Ind.Ct.App. 2013) (citing Cubel v. Cubel, 876 N.E.2d 1117, 1119 (Ind. 2007)).

         [¶7] Initially, we note that Father did not file an appellee's brief. When an appellee fails to file a brief, we apply a less stringent standard of review. McKibben v. Kaiser, 106 N.E.3d 529, 530 (Ind.Ct.App. 2018). We are under no obligation to undertake the burden of developing an argument for the appellee. Id. Therefore, we may reverse the trial court if the appellant establishes prima facie error, which is error "at first sight, on first appearance, or on the face of it." Id.

         [¶8] Under Indiana Code section 31-16-6-6,

(a) The duty to support a child under this chapter, which does not include support for educational needs, ceases when the child becomes nineteen (19) years of age unless ...

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