Family Law Update
May 18, 2015
Parent’s Responsibility to Pay for Child’s College Education
In 1993, Pennsylvania passed a law that provided courts the authority to require parents to pay college expenses for their children (23 Pa.C.S. § 4327). In 1995, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in Curtis v. Kline, held that the 1993 statute was unconstitutional. The Pennsylvania Supreme court found that the law violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.
Although a Pennsylvania court may not require, by statute, parents to pay for college expenses, a court will enforce a contract where parents agreed to pay for such college expenses. Such a contract is often discussed in the context of divorce, and parties will seek to contractually require contribution to the college expenses of their children. Pennsylvania courts will enforce a contract between parties to pay for all or a portion of their children’s college expenses.
In the Pennsylvania Superior Court Mazurek v. Russell, the court confirmed that courts will enforce a marital settlement agreement that required a parent to pay for college expenses.
In Mazurek v. Russell, the parties’ marital settlement agreement contained the following paragraph:
It is the parties’ intention that the children attend such undergraduate institutions as are reasonable and appropriate for the children, with the parties mutual consent, which consent shall not be unreasonably withheld. In addition…[husband] shall pay one hundred percent (100%) of the reasonable expenses associated with the children attending such institution.
After the parties entered the agreement, the parties’ child desired to attend Marymount Manhattan College, and wife requested that husband pay the expenses. Husband refused to pay the tuition, expressing concerns over the child’s poor academic performance and the estranged relationship between husband the child. Furthermore, husband had sent wife and email identifying several conditions for husband’s payment including maintaining a relationship with husband, maintaining a 3.0 GPA, allowing husband access to college records, and the child not having a vehicle in college.
Following husband’s refusal to pay, wife filed a petition with the court seeking to husband to pay one hundred percent (100%) of the reasonable expenses. The trial court agreed with wife, and required husband to pay the tuition.
Husband appealed the trial court’s decision to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, and the Superior Court reversed the decision of the trial court. The Superior Court agreed with husband that such conditions were reasonable and held that husband was not required to pay tuition at Marymount Manhattan College.
The case Mazurek v. Russell provides guidance for parents who enter agreements to pay for college education. In Mazurek v. Russell, husband would have been saved the expense associated with appealing the trial court decision had his conditions for payment been included in the original agreement. For wife, she would have benefited from an agreement that did not make college expenses contingent upon the mutual consent of the parties.
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