No. FA 02-0731923
November 18, 2010
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
This matter comes to the court as a postjudgment motion for contempt filed by the plaintiff on October 13, 2010 (#134/134.01). The motion claims that the defendant has failed to pay a variety of child-related expenses over the past several years. There are three claims: first, that the defendant failed to pay his pro rata share of a college expense for the younger of two children this past summer; second, that he failed to pay his share of several summer camp experiences for the children in 2006, 2007 and 2009; and finally, that he has failed to pay a religious expense related to a Bat Mitzvah for the younger child in 2005.
The parties were divorced on January 6, 2004. The case was resolved with an agreement and went forward as an uncontested matter. Based on that agreement, the defendant was to pay child support, alimony, the children's medical insurance coverage and religious expenses relating to the children. The parties also had a specific provision relating to "College Education of the Children" (§ 10).
The hearing was held in December, but judgment was entered in January 2004, presumably for tax filing reasons.
The issue regarding the first claim is based on the child's opportunity in the summer of 2010 to take a college-level course for credit at Yale University. The parties agree that the child was still a high school student at the time she took the course. The plaintiff argues that, despite the fact that their daughter was still in high school, it is still a college expense because it was done at a college for college credit. She also points out that the defendant has paid other college-related expenses while the children have still been in high school, i.e., AP course test fees and fees related to the SAT. The defendant retorts that just because he voluntarily paid certain expenses in the past does not obligate him to pay this one and notes that the agreement contains a "no waiver" provision (§ 22). He argues that since the daughter is still in high school it cannot be a college expense within the meaning of the agreement.
The court must first consider the interpretation of the parties' agreement. "[The] interpretation of a separation agreement that is incorporated into a dissolution decree is guided by the general principles governing the construction of contracts. Thus, if there is definitive contract language, the determination of what the parties intended by their commitments is a question of law . . . The language used in a contract must be accorded its common, natural, and ordinary meaning and usage where it can be sensibly applied to the subject matter of the contract. Where the language of the contract is clear and unambiguous, the contract is to be given effect according to its terms. A court will not torture words to import ambiguity where the ordinary meaning leaves no room for ambiguity . . . Finally, in construing contracts, [the court must] give effect to all the language included therein, as the law of contract interpretation militates against interpreting a contract in a way that renders a provision superfluous . . . Therefore, when interpreting a contract, we must look at the contract as a whole, consider all relevant portions together and, if possible, give operative effect to every provision in order to reach a reasonable overall result." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Afkari-Ahmadi v. Fotovat-Ahmadi, 294 Conn. 384, 390-91, 985 A.2d 319 (2009). See Russell v. Russell, 95 Conn.App. 219, 221-22, 895 A.2d 862 (2006).
Interestingly, the parties did not make use of the post-secondary education statute (CGS § 46b-56c) in their agreement. They did not refer to post-secondary education at all, but rather used the phrase "all college expenses." There were no qualifying provisions such as `reasonable and necessary' and there was no reference to the expenses being for post-secondary education. The court finds that the language used is clear and unambiguous and must, therefore, be followed according to those terms. Since the course was given at a college and since the child earned college credits for her work, the expense must be considered a college expense. There was no evidence offered to the court that the defendant's refusal to honor this financial obligation was a willful disobedience of the court orders. It appears to have been an honest difference of opinion as to the meaning to the provision in question.
The plaintiff's claims that the expenses incurred by the children for the summer opportunities at various college campus locations, over several different years, are not college expenses under the provisions of the judgment. They appear to have been enrichment opportunities for the girls, and without a doubt were wonderful experiences, but the court finds that no other provision in the judgment obligates the defendant to contribute to any expense not enumerated at the beginning of this memorandum. The agreement is totally silent as to any sort of contribution for extra-curricular expenses, day care, summer camp or the like. The income of the parties removed them from the child support guidelines in effect at that time so there can be no implied day care expense under the plaintiff's claim. The court finds that defendant bears no liability for these expenses under the terms of the agreement of the parties, and by incorporation of that agreement, under the terms of the judgment.
As to the final claim for the Bat Mitzvah expenses that were incurred in 2005, although there is a provision for the defendant to pay for all religious expenses for the children, this claim must be considered stale since it is more than five (5) years old. The plaintiff by her own testimony admits that she has taken no action to prosecute this claim and only included it in this motion because she was already going to the effort of filing the contempt motion for other matters.
Having heard the parties and reviewed the evidence presented, the court enters the following orders:
1. The defendant is to pay to the plaintiff the sum of $1,974.53 to compensate her for his portion of the Yale expenses; said payment to be made within thirty (30) days.
2. No finding of contempt is made as to the defendant.