A Pennsylvania appellate court has ruled that an adult child seeking money from their parents can become a party in their parents’ divorce. In the case of Weber v. Weber, Judges Olson, Stabile, and Strassburger held that Michael Weber, the adult child of Beth Anne Weber and Mark Weber, had legal standing to join his parents’ divorce action as a plaintiff in order to sue his father to enforce a provision saying that his parents would pay for college.
Writing the opinion for the three judges, Judge Strassburger explained that “…we agree with Son that he is a third-party beneficiary to the marital settlement agreement and his intervention into the action to enforce it is proper.”
“As such,” added Judge Strassburger, “Son, who now enjoys all rights as a party to an action as an intervenor and third-party beneficiary, may seek to enforce his parents’ agreement because “[u]nder Pennsylvania law, a third[-]party beneficiary’s rights and limitations in a contract are the same as those of the original contracting parties.”
Citing an earlier Pennsylvania case which declined to allow a child to become a party to their parents’ divorce, the court distinguished that case, in which the child was seeking to collect child support for herself, by explaining that “It is clear that our Supreme Court’s holding, expressly disallowing children from seeking to enforce their parents’ settlement agreement where “the agreement provides for support payments to the custodial parents[,]” did not foreclose a child’s ability to enforce a provision that provided a direct benefit to the child, such as an agreement to pay college tuition.”
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It has long been held, to the frustration of many non-custodial parents, that child support is for the custodial parent, to allow them to provide for the child, and not directly for the child him or herself. By distinguishing prior cases from the current case, the Court is saying that while in previous cases the child didn’t actually have any legal skin in the game, in this case the child was a direct third-party beneficiary to the parents’ contract (the Marital Settlement Agreement) to pay for the child’s college.
So, now there is an ongoing case where the adult son is suing his father for half of the son’s college tuition.
While this case actually was about the procedural aspect of the issues (can a child become a party to their parents’ divorce (yes, where they are a third-party beneficiary)), and while the decision is from an intermediate court in Pennsylvania, you can be sure that other courts and lawyers in other areas are paying attention, and so it serves as notice to divorced or single parents on two fronts:
1. If you have any such clauses in your divorce settlement or parenting plan, your children may be able to sue you, and
2. Think very carefully before agreeing to any such clauses in any future agreements. And you can be sure that lawyers and judges will be keeping this in mind as they are drafting any such agreements or orders.
What do you think of this situation? We want to hear from you!