A Parent’s Obligation to Pay for College Does Not Include Graduate Studies

A father, who had agreed to contribute to his child’s college education, was not responsible for contributing to the costs of the child’s post-graduate degree. In the recently decided case of Robinson v. Gerny (New York Law Journal) (subscription required), the Court ruled that “The word ‘college’ denotes attendance at an undergraduate program resulting in a bachelor’s degree.”

The Court ruled that the fact that the child was seeking a graduate degree was not “contemplated as within the plain meaning of college.”

This dispute could have easily been prevented by carefully drafting the parties’ settlement agreement. It is not uncommon to provide in a settlement agreement that child support will be paid for so long as a child is registered and attending an undergraduate degree on a full time basis. Indeed, Justice Pines decided this case by applying basic tenets of contract construction, giving words and phrases their plain and ordinary meaning.

If there is a lesson to be learned from this case, it is that the scope and duration of a party’s obligation to contribute to a child’s higher education should be clearly defined in clear and unambiguous language

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