Robert G. Smith, PLLC

Child Support Obligations And Contract Interpretation

In Fleming v. Fleming, decided by the Appellate Division, Second Department on March 30, 2016, the parent's written settlement document stipulated that the father would pay child support until the children reach the age of 21, or the completion of "four (4) academic years of college," whichever occurred last, but in no event beyond the school year of the child's 23rd birthday. The child obtained a bachelor's degree in three years before the age of 23 and continued to attend college. The Appellate court held that the fair meaning of the language "four (4) academic years of college," expressed the parties' intent to describe a four-year undergraduate course of study leading to a bachelor's degree; and that there was "no evidence in the record to suggest that the parties intended this language to mean graduate school."  The fact that the child was able to obtain the bachelor's degree in three years instead of four years did not, in that court's opinion,  change the "plain meaning" of the contract language, or alter what the Court described as the parties' "reasonable expectations" as to the intent of the contract's terms.

One week later, in Alan P. V. Charlotte E., the Appellate Division, First Department, held that the parents' written settlement agreement, which provided that the father's child support obligation for a disabled child would continue until the occurrence of the earliest of three specified events: (1) the child's care being completely covered by a government entitlement program; (2)  the child's marriage; or (3)  the child's death, meant that the father's child support obligation would continue until the child's death, unless one of the other two events occurs first, without regard to the child reaching the age of majority. A contract provision terminating that parent's child support obligation at the age of 21 was not be implied as a "reasonable expectation" as to the intent of the contract's terms.  

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