Child Support

Father is Obligated to Pay Child Support While Son Attended College Per the Contractual Terms of a 13 Year Old Property Settlement Agreement

In the child support case of W.A.M. v. S.P.C., PICS Case No. 14-1058, (Pa. Super, July 2, 2014), the Honorable Eugene B. Strassburger, III writing on behalf of the appellate court ruled that the trial court did not abuse its discretion or commit an error of law by enforcing the parties’ settlement agreement regarding child support where the unambiguous settlement agreement described father’s duty to provide support during his child’s post-secondary education.

On September 6, 2001, the parties entered into a settlement agreement for child support beginning on October 1, 2001 and payable on the first day of each month thereafter until the child was emancipated or the same otherwise modified by the court.

The agreement noted that pursuant to the law of Missouri, a child was considered emancipated if the child reached the age of 18, unless the child was enrolled in and attending a secondary school program of instruction. Then the support obligation would continue until the child completed such a program or reached the age of 21, whichever occurred first.

In June 2006, mother and the parties’ child moved to Centre County, Pa. On July 7, 2007, mother filed a complaint for custody. The trial court entered an order assuming jurisdiction and providing that a custody schedule set forth in the parties’ 2001 settlement agreement should continue to apply.

The parties became involved in a series of disputes regarding father’s ability to exercise partial custody. On July 29, 2013, father filed a petition for special relief. He asserted that the child had graduated from high school and would begin attending Lycoming College in the fall of 2013. According to father, he had little contact with the child due to mother’s lack of cooperation and asserted that pursuant to Pennsylvania law, the child was emancipated. He requested that he be permitted to discontinue paying support.

The trial court denied the petition without hearing testimony. The court concluded that the issue of whether the father was required to pay child support while the child was attending college was, under the circumstances, a matter of contract law.

On appeal, father argued that requiring him to pay child support while the child was attending college was unconstitutional. The Superior Court found that the father misunderstood the trial court’s decision. Father’s duty to support his child arose from the terms of the parties’ settlement agreement. The Superior Court agreed with the trial court that father’s duty to provide support during the child’s post-secondary education was contractual in nature.

The court found that mother and father had entered into an unambiguous settlement agreement wherein they agreed upon the definition of “emancipated” and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion or commit an error of law by enforcing the agreement.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 37 PLW 656 (July 15, 2014)

Filed Under: Child Support, Child Support While Attending College, Emancipation

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