Ball State University v. Irons – Parent Seeks Tuition Payment From Divorce Settlement

Indiana law allows parents to seek modification of child support such that the other parent be responsible to pay a portion of the child’s post-secondary education expenses, even though the child is no longer legally a minor.
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In the case of Ball State University v. Irons, before the Indiana Supreme Court, a mother was understandably compelled to act when the university in which her daughter had previously been enrolled refused to provide transcripts to her new school, Indian University Northwest – after the school refused to allow her to enroll without them. Ball State said it had the authority to withhold the transcripts until payment of a debt obligation had been fulfilled. The bill was supposed to be paid by the father under an earlier approved modification of child support.

The mother was pursuing legal action against the father to compel him to pay this outstanding bill, and requested to add Ball State University as a supplemental defendant so that she could demand the transcripts be turned over to the new school. She asserted this action was necessary because otherwise, she would not be able to obtain complete relief in her action against the father. She was seeking unpaid fees to the first university, but also payment of future college expenses. However, she’d be unable to state future college expenses if her daughter wasn’t enrolled – which she couldn’t do without transcripts being held by the first school for non-payment.

Trial court agreed, approving her motion by finding she would not be able to fully adjudicate all issues and receive complete relief for future college expenses until her daughter completed enrollment at the new school. Court conceded the daughter was stuck in limbo.

Ball State responded with a motion to dismiss, indicating it was willing and able to release the transcript – as soon as the tuition was paid. However, it argued, it shouldn’t have to defend itself in an action that is essentially a domestic relations issue between mother and father.

The court denied the motion, and ordered the university to turn over the transcripts. Trial court further ruled the school was not without remedy, as it was free to pursue debt collection through normal collection procedures.

Ball State appealed, but the Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal without making any conclusion on the merits, finding it lacked jurisdiction because there had been no final order in the case.

However, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed.

First, the court ruled the university was correct in its assertion that it is holding the transcript in the form of a common law lien – which it has the right to do. What’s more, because ordering the university to release the transcript forfeits the lien, it has financial and legal consequences akin to a final judgment, and thus, the order was appealable.

Secondly, the court agreed with the university’s assertion that it shouldn’t have to appear in court to defend itself in a domestic relations action.

That means the mother will likely have to pursue a second modification for future college expenses after the original debt is paid, the transcripts are released and the daughter can enroll in her new school.

Our Indiana child support lawyers recognize these cases can be challenging for all parties involved. This case shows the sort of unique challenges that can arise, and why it’s imperative to employ an attorney with experience.

Indiana Family Law Attorney Burton A. Padove handles divorce and child custody matters throughout northern Indiana, including Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.

Additional Resources:
Ball State University v. Irons, March 18, 2015, Indiana Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Hardman v. Hardman – Allocation of Child Tuition Expenses in Divorce Settlement, Oct. 10, 2014, Northwest Indiana Family Law Attorney Blog