Ryan A. Benefiel, Appellant-Petitioner,
Junko M. Stalker, Appellee-Respondent
from the Hamilton Circuit Court Trial Court Cause No.
29C01-1703-JP-375 The Honorable Paul A. Felix, Judge
Attorneys for Appellant Katherine A. Harmon Jared S. Sunday
Mallor Grodner LLP Indianapolis, Indiana
Attorney for Appellee Christine Douglas Harden Jackson LLC
Vaidik, Chief Judge.
Ryan A. Benefiel ("Father") appeals the trial
court's order that he pay $20, 000 of the nearly $40, 000
in attorney's fees incurred by Junko Makiah Stalker
("Mother") in this paternity action. We affirm.
and Procedural History
In August 2016, E.B. was born out of wedlock to Mother and
Father. Mother and Father lived together from E.B.'s
birth until the end of February 2017, when Mother and E.B.
moved out. Thereafter, Father filed a petition to establish
paternity, custody, parenting time, and child support and
requested an expedited hearing. After several continuances
and other motions, the trial court ordered the parties to
participate in mediation, which was unsuccessful. A
preliminary hearing was held in October 2017, during which
the trial court heard "evidence and argument on issues
of parenting time only." Appellant's App. Vol. II p.
40. Following the hearing, the trial court ordered as
3. The Court finds that Father's request for additional
parenting time above what is permitted in the Indiana
Parenting Time Guidelines is unreasonable considering that
for the first month after the parties separated, Father had
no desire to provide care for or have any custody or control
of [E.B.], and considering the multiple parenting time
opportunities Father missed.
Id. at 41. Accordingly, the court awarded Father
parenting time consistent with the guidelines, which, based
on E.B.'s age, was one overnight per week. Id.
Following the trial court's order, the parties had many
disputes about parenting time. In February 2018, Mother
requested a parenting coordinator "to help improve the
parties' ability to communicate and to do so more
effectively." Id. at 48. Thereafter, the trial
court appointed a parenting coordinator.
A final hearing was held in June 2018. Although the parties
had stipulated to some of the issues, there were still many
issues to be addressed at the hearing, including whether
Father should receive additional parenting time, where the
parties should meet to exchange E.B. for parenting time, the
amount of Father's child-support arrearage, and how much
Father should pay toward Mother's attorney's fees.
Ex. A. The parenting coordinator testified about the
difficulties she had encountered with Father. She described
an incident during one of the parenting-time exchanges where
Father called Mother a racial epithet in the presence of E.B.
The parenting coordinator also testified about a joint phone
call she had with the parties. Based on Father's demeanor
during that call, she believed he needed anger-management
counseling. Finally, the parenting coordinator testified that
none of the issues Father raised with her had any merit. Tr.
Evidence was also presented about Father's income. Father
made $31, 746.13 in 2017. However, he took a new job in
January 2018, which has an annual salary of $47, 923.20.
Father acknowledged that this was "quite an increase in
pay." Id. at 45. In addition to his increased
salary, Father received a company car and is eligible for
bonuses. In contrast, Mother's annual salary as a
waitress is approximately $15, 000.
Finally, Mother's attorney, a certified family-law
specialist, testified about her work in this case. She
submitted her thirty-page attorney-fee statement, which
reflects fees from March 2017 to June 2018 of $35, 936 and
expenses of $114.49. Ex. G. She testified that this case was
"the most expensive case I have ever done in 20
years." Tr. p. 77. Mother's attorney explained that
the facts were not complicated and that it was the type of
case that should have been resolved through the attorneys or
mediation. However, neither worked in this case. Mother's
attorney explained that what "has made this case
complicated is the overwhelming amount of requests for
attorneys to get involved, specifically me, to work out
issues with Father." Id. She then highlighted
some of Father's behaviors that caused her to spend so
much time on the case: (1) Father requested an expedited
hearing and sought a preliminary injunction; (2) Father made
allegations about Mother that involved the police; (2) Father
alleged that Mother abused drugs; (3) Father did not
cooperate in discovery; (4) Father alleged that Mother was
physically and emotionally harming E.B., which got CPS
involved; and (5) Mother twice sought a protective order.
Id. at ...