A merged provision in a separation agreement purportedly required each parent to pay one-half of college education expenses. Under the agreement, mother had physical custody and the parties had shared legal custody of their daughter. Years later, the daughter, without input from the father, enrolled at a private university where the cost of her first year, after grants, was $34,000. Mother looked to father for $17,000, father refused to pay, and mother brought a contempt action. The Probate Court held the father responsible for $7,800 — finding that the school was financially “out of reach” for the father. On mother’s appeal, the appellate court construed the agreement to require each party to pay half of the “reasonable” college expenses, implying a limiting condition not explicit in the agreement. Further, in remanding the case to the Probate Court for a determination of “reasonable college expenses,” the Appeals Court set forth several factors for the court to consider; among them, financial resources, cost, programs at the school, and the child’s scholastic aptitude. Also relevant, according to the Court, is “the extent to which [a party] . . . may have been excluded from the college decision-making process.” The court would also consider the extent to which a parent has “sat on his or her right to intervene . . . until the college selection process has been completed.” Perhaps most interesting in this case was the road not taken. The Appeals Court could have held college expenses at the level of a public university to be presumptively reasonable. The court, however, did not. Mandel v. Mandel, 74 Mass.App.Ct. 348 (June 3, 2009).The Greater Boston metro family law lawyers and estate planning attorneys at the Wellesley, MA law firm of Fields and Dennis serve the Greater Boston region including Allston, Arlington, Boston, Brighton, Brookline, Chestnut Hill, Concord, Dedham, Dover, Lexington, Natick, Needham, Newton, Waltham, Watertown, Wayland, Wellesley, Weston, Westwood, and all Massachusetts.
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