In Norris v. Norris, the Supreme Court of Georgia has reversed the ruling of a Chatham County Superior Court judge, dealing with the issue of a divorced parent’s obligation to pay college education expenses under a divorce settlement agreement incorporated into a final divorce decree.

In this case the Court found that “Husband’s obligation to pay his son’s college expenses arose solely from the settlement agreement between the parties that was incorporated into the final decree.” Because the settlement agreement did not specify, however, “the time in which the child must complete his undergraduate education, the [trial] court determined an eleven semester limitation was ‘reasonable’ and terminated Husband’s obligation for any period of time thereafter.” In reversing the trial court, the Supreme Court ruled that “while the parties could have placed a time limitation on Husband’s contractual obligation to pay college expenses, they did not do so, and it was error for the trial court to impose such a limitation.”

In his special concurrence, Justice Melton argued that “the plain language of the final judgment and divorce decree at issue in this case creates two obligations for the Husband: one regarding tuition which is presently capable of calculation, and one obligation regarding non-tuition expenses which has no similar limitations,” and that “neither obligation is ambiguous, and each should be enforced according to the terms of the agreement.”

In her dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Sears argued that the majority misinterprets language in the settlement agreement when it finds that it “limits only the ‘rate of tuition for which Husband would be responsible,’ even though the parties clearly could have chosen to use the term ‘rate’ instead of ‘amount’ had they intended to create such a narrow limitation.” As a result, in her view the settlement agreement’s “limiting clause is really no limitation at all, because as long as the ‘rate’ of tuition is no more expensive than that charged by the University of Georgia, Husband’s obligation is endless so long as the child chooses to attend college.” Justice Thompson joined in this dissent.

SOURCE: Supreme Court of Georgia