Thursday, January 31, 2008

Child Support and College Expenses: New Court of Appeals Case

Mother and father agree that father is to pay part of son's college expenses as part of support. Father makes payments on college expenses for eighteen months. Mother cites father for contempt - for not paying child support. That is the first issue in Vagenas v. Vagenas (Ind.App., 1-30-08; pdf format).

The opinion discusses the law on alternative methods of paying child support which substantially comply with the court's order. Here, the Court of Appeals needed to decide if "payment of educational expenses equates to payment of support." (Opinion at 5). Reviewing the law, The Court of Appeals noted case law and The Child Support Guidelines separate educational expenses from child support while IC 31-16-6-2 includes educational benefits into child support and provides for an abatement of support.

Then the Court of Appeals veers off into equity. Well, so I read this paragraph:

Here, the parties entered into an agreement and abided by that agreement for approximately eighteen months before Mother filed her contempt petition. Father reasonably relied on the parties' agreement in failing to pay court-ordered child support to Mother while he was paying fifty percent of Son's college expenses. Importantly, under the parties' agreement Father paid $9,201.73, which is more than the $8500 he was required to pay during that time period under the child Support order. Because college expenses are in the nature of child support and there was no reduction in the amount of child support, we conclude that Father's payment of college expenses substantially complied with the child support order.
(Opinion at 8). The Court of Appeal dealt the mother's second argument, that the trial court wrongly split the educational expenses equally between the parents, with comparative swiftness. As I read the opinion, the courts favored father's argument. "Father responds that deviation from the guidelines is supported bythe parties' incomes, their available financial resources, and their previous agreement to be equally- responsible thr their son's college expenses." (Opinion at 8). Father had more income while mother was self-employed but had a multimillon dollar home and investments, so both had the wherewithal to make contributions.

I think mother's previously agreeing to equally split the educational expenses was tipping point. The opinion makes no mention of mother's financial condition changing since she made her agreeement. I think the mother possessed financial sophisitcation and knew what she was doing when she entered into her agreement. Plus, she had already made known her unwillingness to stick with her agreement with father.

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