New York Court Discusses Interpretation of Stipulations Regarding Child Support

It is not uncommon for a divorcing couple to enter into a settlement agreement establishing their rights and obligations. If they have children, such agreements may include provisions regarding child support. While any agreement pertaining to children must be in the children’s best interests, if the courts incorporate a stipulation of settlement into a divorce judgment, they will typically be enforced as written. When determining whether a stipulation of settlement is enforceable, the courts will assess, in part, whether the language is clear and unambiguous, as demonstrated in a recent ruling issued in a New York case in which the parties disputed whether child support for add-on expenses was warranted. If you want to learn more about your rights with regard to child support, it is wise to meet with a New York child support lawyer as soon as possible.

History of the Case

It is reported that the parties were married and subsequently divorced through a judgment entered in June 2015. The judgment incorporated a stipulation of settlement but did not merge the stipulation into the settlement. The wife later moved for child support add-on expenses in excess of $30,000, as well as attorneys’ fees. At the same time, the husband moved to end his child support obligation for the couple’s older child. He also sought to compel the wife to provide proof of child support add-on expenses going forward and to hold the wife in contempt for failing to comply with the stipulation of settlement. The trial court granted the wife’s motion and denied the husband’s, after which the husband appealed.

Interpretation of Stipulations Regarding Child Support

On appeal, the court reversed the trial court ruling with regard to the child support for add-on expenses.  In doing so, the court emphasized that a stipulation of settlement, when incorporated but not merged into a divorce judgment, is a contract subject to contract construction and interpretation principles.

In the subject case, the stipulation unambiguously required the defendant to pay a percentage of the actual incurred child support add-on expenses, not a predetermined sum. The court clarified that the term “expenses” in the stipulation referred to costs genuinely accrued. Consequently, the wife was not entitled to the awarded sum of $31,128 for child support add-on expenses that she had not accrued.

The court also determined that, given the ruling on child support add-on expenses, the wife was not entitled to counsel fees according to the stipulation of settlement. The court deemed the remainder of the husband’s contentions to be without merit and affirmed the order as modified.

Talk to a Dedicated New York Attorney

Parties can enter into stipulations defining their child support rights and obligations, and such agreements will generally be enforced if they are clear, unambiguous, and in the best interest of the child involved. If you need assistance resolving a child support dispute, it is advisable to contact an attorney. Ksenia Rudyuk is a dedicated New York divorce lawyer who can assist you in protecting your interests and those of your child. You can reach Ms. Rudyuk by using the online form or calling 212-706-2001 to set up a meeting.

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