My child support paperwork states that I am to pay 50 percent of all agreed educational expenses. My ex signed my daughter up for an extracurricular trip for school and then informed me my half was $1100.00.
At this time my ex has been playing games and not allowing me to see my daughter per our paperwork. I told her that I agreed the trip was a good opportunity but I was unwilling to pay for half because of my daughter’s current attitude about seeing me. I was not going to reward it with a trip. I did however offer to assist with $500.00.
Now my ex states that her lawyer said I owe half because I agreed to the trip. Can they force me to pay half?
Your situation points up that custody and divorce judgments are legal documents subject to interpretation and that having an experienced family law attorney draft (or re-draft) the documents to avoid ambiguities and protect your interests is a critical element of the divorce process.
Depending upon the terms of your judgment, you may be able to avoid the expense. If the terms of your judgment require your written approval, agreement in advance to specific dollar amounts, or a set length of advance notice to respond to the proposal, and your ex-wife did not comply with these requirements, then she may be found to have acted unilaterally and is solely responsible for the cost. These types of conditions are routinely advised by experienced family law attorneys representing fathers. Conversely, attorneys who are less familiar with the issues or who represent the custodial mother may propose vague language which gives the mother a “blank check” so that the father must pay regardless.
You advise that your judgment provides for payment of half of the “agreed educational expenses.” The first issue would be whether the trip qualifies as an “educational expense” not just a school sponsored or endorsed vacation or an athletic or social activity. If there is not a significant, valid educational component to the trip you may have an argument that it does not fall under your obligation for educational expenses. If it is school sponsored trip, then there is probably enough of an educational component to qualify the trip as educational for state or federal education and tax regulations.
If there are no other terms controlling your obligation or the procedure for agreeing to such expenses, than your failure to expressly reject the trip combined with your advising that the trip would be a good opportunity for your child may constitute your agreement to the expense. Even if your child does not go on the trip, you would have agreed to share the expense incurred, such as a cancellation fee or the entire expense if it is non-refundable.
You could also be required to pay your share if your ex-wife can show that she would not have incurred the expense “but for” your conduct or statements and a judge finds that she relied upon your conduct in proceeding with signing your daughter up for the trip.
Richard Coffee is a Litigation Manager in the Belleville Illinois office of Cordell & Cordell. He is an experienced divorce attorney whose practice is devoted to domestic litigation. He is licensed in the State of Illinois and is admitted to practice law in the U.S. District Courts for Northern, Central and Southern Illinois.
Mr. Coffee has extensive domestic litigation trial experience representing clients in courts throughout Illinois on all aspects of domestic litigation, including the representation of clients who are current or retired military personnel with issues under the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act and the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, clients involved in state court jurisdictional disputes due to the relocation of one or both parties from or to Illinois, and clients with government or private pension benefit valuation and division issues.