Quasi-Emancipation Overruled by Indiana Court of Appeals

 

Summary

It is common in family law for parents to see their child in his or her senior year of high school is as an adult.  It is also common for these children to have very active lives in which it is difficult to exercise parenting time with the non-custodial parent, but it is the role of the parents to ensure that the child continues with the visits.  Parents cannot allow children to dictate their parenting time.  The Courts will not allow it either.

Details

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently found that the Lake County trial court overstepped its authority when it allowed a minor child to determine what was in his best interests regarding parenting time and participation in school, extracurricular, and religious activities.   The trial court does not have the authority to allow unemancipated minors to make their “own decisions regarding parenting time and related issues.” Moell at § 19.

While true that the trial “court may modify an order granting or denying parenting time rights whenever modification would serve the best interests of the child,” here the Court of Appeals found that the trial court “removed [the minor child] from the care and control of his parents.” Moell at § 15.  The Court of Appeals was troubled by the trial court essentially giving a minor child carte blanche in his decision making regardless of his age or maturity while the parents were still obligated to financially support the minor child.  Moell at § 15. The minor child did not live on his own, nor did he have employment to support himself.

Indiana Code § 31-16-6-6(a) finds that a child is emancipated upon his nineteenth birthday by operation of statute.  However, a child can become emancipated when he is at least eighteen years old and has not attended a secondary school or postsecondary school for the last four months and has the capability to support himself financially through employment.  Alternatively, a child may become emancipated before age nineteen if the child “(1) is on active duty in the United States Armed Forces; (2) has married; or (3) is not under the care or control of: (A) either parent; or (B) an individual agency approved by the court.

Therefore, the trial court order allowed the minor child to circumvent the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines (IPG).  The IPG specifically address in section I(E)(3) that if a “child is reluctant to participate in parenting time, each parent shall be responsible to ensure the child complies with the scheduled parenting time.  In no event shall a child be allowed to make the decision on whether scheduled parenting time takes place.”[1]  Further, by reasoning that the minor child would be an adult at eighteen years old, the trial court failed to show how he would qualify for emancipation.  Moell at ¶ 18.

 

[1] Italicized for emphasis.  Comment 1 under Indiana Parenting Time Guideline Section II(E) states: The rearing of a teenager requires parents to make decisions about what their teen should be allowed to do, when, and with whom….  If parents are not able to agree, the teenager, who very much wants freedom from adult authority, should never be used as the “tie breaker.”

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