In a post judgment divorce action, the Connecticut Appellate Court ruled that a father was not entitled to reduce his contribution toward college tuition even though the mother received a significant credit due to her employment with the child’s university. The parties were the parents of two children, and were divorced in 2001 by way of a stipulated judgment of dissolution. Their separation agreement provided that they would set aside a joint college fund for the benefit of both children, and that they would pay at least one-half of the children’s college expenses as would be required at a state college or university.
Motion for Contempt
When the parties’ youngest child began college, the mother relocated and served on the school’s faculty. As a result, the child received a significant tuition credit. However, at that time the parties did not communicate with one another, and the child did not communicate with the father. In fact, the father was completely unaware that the child even began college. Nevertheless, the mother filed a motion for contempt, claiming that the father failed to contribute toward the cost of the child’s education. Although the trial court did not find the father in contempt, it did order him to pay one-half of the son’s college expenses, including credits to the mother for the tuition she was reimbursed.
The father appealed claiming that the trial court erred in ordering him to reimburse the mother for one-half of their son’s first year tuition, including any amount credited back to her, because to the extent she did not incur any actual costs, she would be unjustly enriched by his reimbursement. The father also argued that nothing in the parties’ separation agreement obligated him to reimburse the mother for an amount which she was credited as a result of employment with the child’s school.
Citing the language of the parties’ agreement, however, the Appellate Court took the exact opposite position, concluding that nothing in the parties’ agreement precluded the mother from receiving reimbursement from the father for amounts credited to her. Despite the patently unforeseeable nature of the circumstances, according to the Court, the agreement simply failed to include the exception the father was now claiming. This case illustrates not only the uncertainty one might encounter at the trial court level, but also the degree to which appellate courts will defer to a lower court’s discretion.
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