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Court Holds That Father Must Pay Law School Expenses in Post-Judgment Case

Court Holds That Father Must Pay Law School Expenses in Post-Judgment Case

In Rossi v. Livingston, the New Jersey Appellate Court recently affirmed a lower Family Court’s decision to enforce a divorce settlement in a post-judgment matter involving a requirement that a party pay for half of his child’s law school expenses. In this post-judgment matrimonial matter, a father appealed from an order issued by a Family Court requiring that he pay for half of his daughter’s law school expenses. In his appeal, the father argued that he should not have been required to do so because certain conditions which were established as part of his divorce judgment were not satisfied and therefore his obligation to pay for the school expenses were never triggered. Further, he argued that because his relationship with his daughter had soured following the divorce, there has been changed circumstances that relieved him of his obligation to pay for her law school education. The parent-parties in this case were married from 1983 until 2009. They have two children who were emancipated at the time of their divorce. With the help of their attorneys, the parties, agreed to a negotiated divorce settlement which was incorporated into their Final Judgment of Divorce. The agreement specified that neither party had to pay alimony or child support because both children were declared to be emancipated, but specifically stated that if the daughter did decide to go to law school either party could bring an application to the court to declare her un-emancipated. Further, the agreement stated with particularity that notwithstanding her emancipation status, the parties agreed that they shall each pay 50% of the law school expenses after scholarships and grants. In 2012, the daughter was accepted into law school and informed her father of her decision and reminded him that pursuant to the terms of the agreement which was incorporated into his divorce judgment, he was obligated to contribute 50% of the cost because she did not receive any scholarships or grants. The father responded by saying that he could not afford the cost of the law school that she had chosen, but would contribute $7,500 towards a cheaper law school. In late 2012, the mother hired an attorney who wrote a letter to the father directing him to pay for half of the law school expenses pursuant to the agreement that he signed. Subsequently, the mother filed a post-judgment motion with the Family Court to enforce the terms of the agreement. The Family Court judge held that the father was obligated to contribute his agreed upon financial obligation toward his daughter’s law school expenses because “New Jersey has long espoused a policy favoring the use of consensual agreements to resolve marital controversies.” J.B. v. W.B., 215 N.J. 1, 5 (2011). In addition, the court found that the mother and child did not materially breach the underlying agreement by taking 10 days instead of 5 days to notify the father about her decision, because the extra time was used to appeal the law school’s decision to not award the daughter any financial aid. The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s decision citing that “Where a settlement agreement is used to define the terms of a divorce, the agreement should be ‘entitled to considerable weight with respect to [its] validity and enforceability’ in equity, provided [it is] fair and just. Dolce v. Dolce, 383 N.J. Super. 11, 20 (App. Div. 2006). If you anticipate that you may want to petition the court for a post-judgment modification of your divorce judgment, alimony award, or child support obligation it is critical that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about post-judgment modifications, divorce, spousal support, child support, or other family law matters in New Jersey visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way intended to replace the advice of an attorney.

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