By Gerri Elder
A New York appellate panel has ruled that an agreement made between a couple from Westchester, New York who are now in the midst of a divorce is both valid and invalid. The appellate court found that although the basic child support provisions in the agreement are not valid under federal law, the part of the agreement outlining college child support for the couple's children is valid.
The court decided to break the divorce settlement agreement made between the couple into parts. First, the Appellate Division, 2nd Department found that the provision of the agreement regarding the children's college expenses was one chunk of the agreement that could stand alone, therefore it was set apart from the provisions of the agreement that were vacated because they were unlawful under the Child Support Standards Act.
The New York Law Journal reported that in the decision for the unanimous panel, Justice Daniel D. Angiolillo wrote that there was nothing in the record that would indicate that the husband and father agreed to pay a share of the children's college expenses as a trade-off or compromise against some other expense.
Wayne and Caroline Cimons were married and had three children. In May 2006, the Cimons had decided to divorce and entered into a settlement agreement. The agreement covered each party's duties and financial obligations for the support of the children.
Later, Westchester Supreme Court Justice Anthony J. Scarpino ruled that the basic child support provisions in the Cimons' settlement agreement failed to make certain recitations as required by the Child Support Standards Act, which is federal law. Therefore any stipulations made between the parties regarding child support were deemed invalid and unenforceable. Scarpino found that the part of the Cimons' settlement agreement that dealt with the payment of college expenses for the children did not involve child support and was therefore a valid and enforceable part of the settlement agreement.
Mr. Cimons appealed Scarpino's ruling. His divorce lawyer contended that the payment of college expenses was part of the child support agreement and not two separate agreements that could be divided.
The appeals court disagreed with Mr. Cimons' divorce lawyer and went with Scarpino's ruling that child support and college expenses constitute two distinctly separate issues in the agreement. Mr. Cimons' motion to vacate the part of the divorce settlement agreement outlining each parent's financial obligation for the college expenses of the children was denied.
The Appellate Division, 2nd Department has previously ruled in other cases that health and education costs were directly related to child support and were to be factored in the child support calculations. However, in the Cimons' case, the court considered college tuition to be an "add-on" educational expense that cannot be considered in the calculation of child support for basic needs.
The appeals panel reviewed the divorce settlement agreement between Mr. and Mrs. Cimons and found that the couple's commitment to providing a college education for each of their children was outlined in a lengthy provision of the agreement that was not connected, added into or contingent on the child support provision.
The Cimons' child support issues were not resolved by the appellate court and the case was remanded to a judicial hearing officer who awarded Mrs. Cimons basically the same amount of child support that the couple had originally agreed to in their divorce settlement agreement.