College Support Agreement Enforceable in Pennsylvania

September 07, 2014 | Child Support, Court Decisions, Legal Perspective

Icon for author Brian Vertz Brian Vertz

Divorced and separated parents in Pennsylvania with children going off to college may wonder who is responsible for paying the tuition. A recent Superior Court court decision reminds us of the law governing college support in Pennsylvania.

W.A.M. v. S.P.C., 2014 PA Super 139 (Pa.Super.2014)

When Mother and Father divorced in Missouri in 2001, they settled their claims by written agreement, including a provision for child support. Their child support clause followed the contours of Missouri law, which requires the payment of child support until a child graduates from college or reaches age 22, whichever occurs first.  In this case, the settlement agreement explicitly provided that it would be governed by Missouri law.

In 2006, Mother and child moved to Pennsylvania.  The Missouri settlement agreement was registered for custody enforcement purposes, conferring personal jurisdiction over the parties.  In 2013, when the child graduated from high school, Father attempted to terminate child support, alleging that the child was estranged from him, and it would be unconstitutional under Pennsylvania law to require Father to pay support. The trial court rejected Father’s petition without scheduling a hearing.

On appeal, the Superior Court rejected the constitutional argument.  While our courts have held that a common law or statutory duty to pay college support violates the Equal Protection Clause of the state and federal constitutions, Curtis v. Kline, 666 A.2d 265 (Pa.1995), Blue v. Blue, 616 A.2d 628 (Pa.1992), there is no constitutional impediment to a contractual obligation. Reif v. Reif, 626 A.2d 169, 173 (Pa. Super. 1993). The trial court did not abuse its discretion, furthermore, because there was no material factual dispute.  Father’s estrangement from his child has not been recognized by our law as a defense to a contractual support obligation. More importantly, Missouri does not recognize an estrangement defense.  Accordingly, the Court held that the contract would be enforced.

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