Parent Held Not Liable under “Verbal Agreement” to Pay College Expenses

November 19, 2009 | Child Support, Court Decisions, Legal Perspective, Settlement

Icon for author Brian Vertz Brian Vertz

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania will be publishing my successful result in Mackay v. Mackay (2009), a case in which a parent attempted to enforce a casual conversation about college plans for their young children as a “verbal agreement” to pay college expenses.┬áThe Superior Court held that their conversation was merely an expression of plans or intentions, rather than an enforceable verbal contract.

The incident from which the dispute arose was a dinner conversation held between the parents when their children were pre-teens. The mother declared that she would like to retire after 30 years of service to her employer, and the father admonished her that both parents would have to continue working to pay for college expenses. Many years later, the parties divorced. In the divorce action, the mother testified about the dinner conversation but did not attempt to assert a contract claim in connection with the divorce. When the eldest child graduated from high school, the father pursued a reduction of his child support obligation, and the mother counter-claimed for enforcement of the alleged oral agreement.

The Superior Court examined the record exhaustively and concluded that a discussion of future plans for college did not constitute a verbal contract between the parents. The Court accepted my argument that the parents did not have an intention when they conversed to enter into a legally-binding agreement. This decision recognized and honored the difference between verbal contracts versus plans made by harmonious married couples, which are not understood or intended to have legal consequences after divorce.

192 WDA 2009

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