Saturday, March 17, 2007

Emancipating the Child - Child Capable of Supporting Themselves

Indiana law allows emancipation of a child when the child is over 18 years of age, out of school for more than four months and is not enrolled in school, and capable of supporting themselves (Ind. Code § 31-16-6-6(a)(3)). Simple, right?

Consider these facts:

Father and Kathy L. Roman (“Mother”) have a daughter, H.R. H.R. turned eighteen years old on May 14, 2002. Around that same time, H.R. graduated from high school and moved in with her boyfriend. From May 2002 to January 2003, H.R. and her boyfriend lived together rent-free in a house owned by the boyfriend’s family. During this time period, H.R. worked full-time at a bank, earning approximately $7000 in 2002. Since high school, H.R. planned on going to college. Because she thought that she would have financial trouble, H.R. took the 2002 fall semester off and worked full-time to save money for college. While H.R. was living with her boyfriend and working full-time, she still received financial support from her parents.
In September 2002, H.R. filled out an application to Purdue University for the 2003 spring semester. H.R. was accepted to Purdue, and in January 2003 she moved into an apartment in West Lafayette with three other girls and began taking classes. H.R. was awarded various scholarships that covered her tuition, fees, and books for the 2003 spring semester, and she took out a Stafford Loan to help cover her living expenses.
Under these facts, the Indiana Court of Appeals decided that the child was not emancipated. While the Court of Appeals found the trial court erred in finding the child enrolled in school (applied to a college is not the same as being enrolled in college), the father failed in showing the daughter capable of supporting herself:
...In the trial court’s order denying Father’s motion to correct error, the court “remain[ed] of the opinion that the child was not self-supporting as she continued to rely upon the financial assistance of her parents, was not required to pay rent or a mortgage thereby easing her financial obligations, and was working in order to afford college.” Appellant’s App. p. 14. Father argues that this finding is clearly erroneous because H.R. was eighteen years old, living with her boyfriend, and working full-time. Father says that this is especially true considering that “[n]owadays, in the twenty-first century, it is extremely common for people to live together but never marry.” Appellant’s Br. p. 15. Although under normal circumstances an eighteen-year-old child’s act of moving out of a parental home and moving in with a boyfriend or girlfriend while having a full-time job may satisfy subsection (a)(3)(C), under the facts and circumstances presented here, that is not the case.

H.R. and her boyfriend moved into a rent-free house about fifteen miles south of Lafayette. H.R., who finished near the top of her high school class, took a semester off and worked full-time to save money to attend Purdue. During this time, H.R. still received financial assistance from her parents for groceries, clothing, and the like. Tr. of March Hearing p. 20. Considering the evidence most favorable to the judgment and not reweighing the evidence or assessing witness credibility, we cannot conclude that the trial court’s finding that H.R. was neither self-supporting nor capable of supporting herself is clearly erroneous....
Butrum v. Butrum, 803 N.E.2d 1139 (Ind.App. 2004). The statute means what it says and the evidence better support the theory.


Anonymous said...

thanks sam, im carefully supporting my 18 yr old in terre haute.recommend you to others.., mishawaka dad

Sam Hasler said...

Thank you for the compliment. Feedback is always appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Interesting you mentioned H.R. moved in with her boyfriend rather than her boyfriend having moved in with her. it is unforturnate the language of the rules are so broad as to allow the court significant latitude in making a decision. I completely agree the courts, in this case, made the right judgement. however, the 3rd rule pertaining to 'is or is capable of supporting him/herself' rarely can be satisfied for the majority of under-twenty-one-year-olds. Thus, for all practical purposes IC 31-16-6-6(a)3(A)(B)(C) will result in only a modification of child support and not emancipation. The parent have had a case if he was able to prove the child was nolonger under the care of either parents.

Sam Hasler said...

Actually, I did not mention anything H.R. moving in with boyfriend. That is in the material quoted from the case.

I wish I could agree with you about the broadness of the rules. I do not think anyone thinks that the General Assembly can legislate so as to cover every fact possible.

I certainly disagree with your interpretation of IC 31-16-6-1. I am appealing a case now where I do not think the evidence showed the child capable of supporting herself but I also have won cases where the child was capable of supporting themselves. The Court of Appeals also put a bit of hurt on the theory of her removing herself from parental control.

I did not much like this decision but I see the point - she may be working full-time but she was certainly not supporting herself with that job. Take out her going to college, the decision ought to have gone the other way.