At its essence, a marriage or civil union is essentially a contract. The term “contract” is defined under the law as an agreement between two (or more) parties that creates a legal obligation to do (or refrain from doing) a certain thing. Several elements must be present in order for a valid contract to be formed: competency of the parties, subject matter, consideration, mutuality of agreement, and mutuality of obligation.
In a recent New York family law case, a trial judge was called upon to decide whether a husband and wife had formed a valid contract with regard to the husband’s agreement to pay rent for the couple’s grown children.
The Agreement, as Claimed by the Wife
In the Nassau County Supreme Court case of Liberman v. Liberman, 201429/2014, the parties had purportedly entered into an agreement under which the husband was to pay $1,900 per month to each of their children to subsidize the rent on their respective apartments in Manhattan. Although both children were employed, college graduates, and over the age of 21, the wife claimed that the husband was obligated to continue the payments until the children were either married (or had cohabitated with someone for a certain time) or reached the age of 30, whichever occurred first.
The Husband’s Argument Against Enforcement of the Agreement
The parties were married in the early 1980s. The husband began helping the parties’ children with their rent in 2010 to help them “become financially independent.” This was some three years before the couple began divorce proceedings.
In 2014, the parties entered into a written agreement concerning the rent payments. The husband continued to make the payments for a time, but he later gave the children a lump sum of $10,000 each and ceased further payments.
When the wife filed a motion to compel additional payments under the agreement, the husband argued that the payments were gifts and that the agreement should be declared null and void.
The New York Judge’s Decision
The trial court judge did not completely agree with the husband’s contention that the payments were a gift, but she went on to rule that contract was unenforceable for lack of consideration, one of the essential elements of any contract. Since only the husband was obligated under the agreement, with the wife providing nothing except a delay in filing a complaint for divorce papers (which she filed anyway only two months later), the judge found that the agreement was one-sided and could not be enforced against the husband.
New Jersey Law with Respect to Grown Children
Although this case was decided under New York law, it is likely that there would have been a similar outcome in New Jersey. Recent legislation was passed here in New Jersey to address thel age at which a child support obligation ends As a general rule, the obligor parent must continue payments until the child is “emancipated.” Whether or not a child has been emancipated is an issue to be determined by the courts. Factors to be considered include whether or not the child is still in high school (or college) and whether the child has special needs. The courts in New Jersey also consider the concept of whether or not the child has moved beyond the sphere of influence of the parents.
Since the children in Liberman had finished their Ivy League educations and were gainfully employed, a New Jersey court would most likely have found them to be emancipated, ending any responsibility that the parents had to support them. Without an enforceable contract to the contrary, the husband would have had no obligation to pay their rent until the age of 30 or until they were married.
To Speak to an Attorney About Your New Jersey Divorce or Child Support Issue
The resolution of the issues in domestic relations cases – child support, custody, divorce, and alimony – tends to revolve around the particular facts and circumstances of the parties. If you need advice about your situation, you should contact an experienced New Jersey child support attorney. To schedule an appointment with a member of the Goldstein Law Group legal team of 5 attorneys, call us at 732-967-6777. We handle cases throughout Monmouth County, Middlesex County, Ocean County and the surrounding areas.
Mark Goldstein, Esq.
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