Child Support

Father Did Not Breach Property Settlement Agreement by Withholding Consent to Pay for Son’s College Expenses

In the family law litigation appellate case of Mazurek vs. Russell, PICS Case No. 14-1032 (Pa Super. June 24, 2014) the Honorable Cheryl Lynn Allen writing on behalf of the Pennsylvania Superior Court held that under property settlement agreement, father reasonably withheld consent to his son’s undergraduate college enrollment.

Father and mother, divorced parents of four children, executed a property settlement agreement (“PSA”) relating to the undergraduate education of their children. The PSA, which was incorporated but not merged into the divorce decree, stood as a separate contract. Under the agreement, the children were to attend such undergraduate institutions as were reasonable and appropriate for the children “with the parties’ mutual consent, which consent shall not be unreasonably withheld.” Father was to pay 100 percent of reasonable expenses associated with education.

Three years later, mother filed an emergency petition for contempt of PSA regarding undergraduate expenses. In response, father explained that he had paid son’s private school expenses from preschool through high school but did not consent and did not unreasonably withhold consent to son attending Marymount College in New York City.

At a hearing, father testified that he “reasonably withheld” his consent for son to attend Marymount, i.e., that his consent was contingent upon son ending his “purposeful estrangement” from father; allowing father access to his college grades and academic records; maintaining a 3.0 GPA; and not taking his car to college in the city. The trial court granted mother’s petition, found father in contempt of the PSA and directed him to pay son’s undergraduate expenses and mother’s counsel fees. The Superior Court reversed.

Private support agreements are subject to contract principles and are enforceable in an action at law for damages or in equity for specific performance. Here, father did not breach the parties’ PSA because he reasonably withheld his consent and payment for son’s college expenses. The language in the contract indicated that father could not “unreasonably” withhold his consent to son’s undergraduate college enrollment.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 37 PLW 634, (July 8, 2014)

Filed Under: Family Law; Private Support Agreements; Child Support; College Expenses

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