Main Line Family Law Attorney Explains that Children May Now Have Standing to Enforce Their Parents’ Marital Settlement Agreements
In the recent case of Weber v. Weber, No. 1312 WDA 2016, the Pennsylvania Superior Court found that a father and mother’s college-aged son was permitted to bring suit to enforce his parents’ settlement agreement that required them to share equally in the reasonable cost of his college education.
Marital settlement agreements between parents often contain payment provisions that affect the children. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has explicitly refused to allow children to sue their parents to enforce child support provisions of the parents’ marital settlement agreement. In doing so, the Supreme Court has relied on a on a public policy rationale, stating that this would open a “Pandora’s Box,” where every child of divorced parents whose settlement agreement contained a provision for child support would bring suit against their parents.
In Weber, however, the Superior found that a child may be permitted to bring suit against his/her parents to enforce provisions of the parents’ settlement agreement when those provisions provide a direct benefit to the child, such as an agreement to pay college tuition. In Weber, the father failed to make his share of the payments toward the son’s college education, which was a violation of father and mother’s marital settlement agreement. The mother filed a petition against father to enforce the provision that he contribute to the son’s education. The son then filed a petition to intervene in the matter, arguing that he was “an intended third party beneficiary of his parents’ contract to share the reasonable costs of an appropriate undergraduate college education and is the real party in interest to this litigation.” The trial court granted son’s petition and permitted him to join in the action as a plaintiff, giving him all of the rights of his parents in the action.
The son also argued that, under the principles of contract law, he was a third-party beneficiary to his parents’ agreement. In Pennsylvania, a third-party beneficiary’s rights in contract are the same as those of the original contracting parties. Therefore, the court found that the son had the right to sue his parents for enforcement under both the theory that he intervened in his mother’s enforcement action and that he was a third party beneficiary to his parent’s settlement agreement.
This case has huge implications for children of parents whose settlement agreements require them to contribute toward college education, as well as for parents who may be struggling to make these payments.
Contact Vetrano|Vetrano & Feinman for Skilled Main Line Family Law Attorneys
If you believe that you are entitled to rights as a third-party beneficiary to your parents’ agreement, or if you are concerned about a potential enforcement action from a third-party beneficiary, contact the experienced family law attorneys at Vetrano|Vetrano & Feinman. Our lawyers are all well-versed in all aspects of family law, and skilled guidance can help ensure the best outcome of your case.
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