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Divorce Judgment Can Obligate Parent to Pay for College

Clarkston Legal Jan. 8, 2015

Last week, the Michigan Court of Appeals reviewed the language of a divorce judgment from the Kent County Family Court. The issue presented to the appeals court was whether certain language contained in a consent judgment -addressing how the parents would pay for their children’s college expenses-was enforceable.

In Holmes v Holmes, the Court of Appeals decided that where two parents enter into a consent judgment, and that judgment sets out certain specific obligations for their children in unambiguous language, those obligations are enforceable. The Mother prevailed asserting the plain language of the judgment required contributions from Father for college tuition and costs; the Father asserted the language of the judgment was too ambiguous to be enforced. The lower court agreed with Father in refusing to enforce the college tuition provision and one of the appellate judges dissented, agreeing with the family court and Father that the provision was too vague to be enforced.

What do you think? This is the language of the consent judgment of divorce that addressed the children’s college costs:

College Education of Children: Husband and Wife will participate in the children’s college education, based upon their respective financial situation at the time the children attend college. Both Husband and Wife understand that the Holmes – grandparents of the children- have placed substantial emphasis on their projected education, and the parties anticipate that the children will be educated based on the Holmes family’s trusts and traditions.

Although the Court of Appeals found the above language to be poorly drafted, they upheld its enforcement relying on a principle culled from a 1958 case that recognized the “unhappy fact” that ambiguity, “lurks in almost every instrument drafted by man.”

The Court held that the mere possibility of differing interpretations of a provision does not render it null and void. Otherwise, nothing in a divorce judgment would be enforceable.

We here at Clarkston Legal believe this is the correct decision. Divorce lawyers are trained to draft enforceable instruments in accord with the mutual assent of the divorcing parties and the applicable laws. We pride ourselves on our draftsmanship and take great care with the provisions of your divorce judgment because, as this case illustrates, it is your life and the lives of your children at stake.

For a free consultation, contact our office to schedule an appointment.

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