In a recent Texas appeal, a father appealed a judgment that awarded the mother post-majority expenses for their child. The case arose from the parents entering into an agreed final decree of divorce and settlement affecting the parent-child relationship. There was a section titled “college education.” In this provision, the parties agreed that the father would pay 60% of the expenses required for their kids to enroll at and attend a public or private college, university, or graduate school as long as the kid remained enrolled in a course of study leading to a degree. The expenses were to include tuition, room and board, books, and other incidental fees. The father was to pay the school directly or reimburse the mother for any payments she made over her 40% share.
The college education provision wasn’t a part of the sections on property distribution or child support in the agreement. The parents signed the decree, thereby agreeing to all of its provisions.
In 2015, the mother sued to enforce the child support order, asking for reimbursement for health expenses and insurance premiums, in addition to college expenses. She later filed amended motions. The father filed an answer, asserting she wasn’t entitled to post-majority support, since she didn’t ask for contractual relief. He argued that the only relief sought was enforcement, rather than breach of contract.
The trial court granted the mother’s motion and awarded her $41,358.63 for college tuition, among other things related to college expenses. The father appealed, claiming it was an abuse of discretion for the court to award post-majority expenses.
The appellate court explained that under Texas Family Code section 154.001 (a)(1), the court can order parents to support a child only until he or she is 18 years old or has graduated from high school, whichever happens later. However, the parties can agree to continued support of a child who is over 18 years old. Without a contractual agreement, there’s no basis for the court to enforce child support for a child who is over 18 and has graduated from high school. In this case, the couple entered into a divorce decree, which was a contract.
The mother didn’t try to enforce the decree as a contract because she argued the court had authority under the Family Code to enforce the decree and award her a monetary judgment. However, the mother was seeking reimbursement for post-majority expenses that weren’t included as part of the property distribution provisions. The appellate court explained there was nothing in the law that allowed for reimbursement for expenses incurred after a child reached the age of 18. The proper way to get reimbursement was through a contract claim.
In this case, since the mother hadn’t tried to get contractual relief for reimbursement of post-majority expenses, the trial court didn’t have the authority to order the father to reimburse her. The mother had no support for her claim that general language in the contract remedied the failure to file a breach of contract claim. The court reversed and rendered judgment for the father that the mother take nothing.
If your divorce involves matters related to child support, call the Texas attorneys at the McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.
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