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In re Shaughnessy

Supreme Court of New York, Second Department

January 15, 2014

In the Matter of Julie A. Shaughnessy, respondent,
v.
Kevin W. Cox, appellant. Docket No. F-7843-07

Kevin W. Cox, Roosevelt, N.Y., appellant pro se.

Julie A. Shaughnessy, Nokomis, Florida, respondent pro se.

REINALDO E. RIVERA, J.P., RUTH C. BALKIN, L. PRISCILLA HALL, SANDRA L. SGROI, JJ.

DECISION & ORDER

In a child support proceeding pursuant to Family Court Act article 4, the father appeals from an order of the Family Court, Nassau County (Kent, J.), dated April 10, 2013, which denied his objections to an order of the same court (Miller, S.M.) dated September 28, 2012, which, after a hearing, granted the mother's petition to enforce the parties' judgment of divorce to the extent of requiring him to pay certain college expenses, including student loans, upon the mother's presentation of proper documentation directly to him, and to pay such college expenses beyond the child's emancipation.

ORDERED that the order dated April 10, 2013, is modified, on the law, by deleting the provision thereof denying the father's objection to so much of the order dated September 28, 2012, as directed the mother to present proper documentation directly to the father regarding college expenses, and substituting therefor a provision granting that objection, vacating that portion of the order dated September 28, 2012, and directing the mother to present proper documentation to the Family Court regarding college expenses; as so modified, the order dated April 10, 2013, is affirmed, without costs or disbursements, and the matter is remitted to the Family Court, Nassau County, for further proceedings consistent herewith.

A stipulation of settlement that is incorporated but not merged into a judgment of divorce is a contract subject to principles of contract construction and interpretation (see Matter of Gravlin v Ruppert, 98 N.Y.2d 1, 5; Colucci v Colucci, 54 A.D.3d 710, 712). Where such an agreement is clear and unambiguous on its face, the intent of the parties must be gleaned from the four corners of the instrument, and not from extrinsic evidence (see Matter of Meccico v Meccico, 76 N.Y.2d 822, 824; Colucci v Colucci, 54 A.D.3d at 712; Herzfeld v Herzfeld, 50 A.D.3d 851, 851-852). An ambiguity exists only where the agreement on its face is reasonably susceptible of more than one interpretation (see Sorrentino v Pearlstein, 55 A.D.3d 901, 902; Nappy v Nappy, 40 A.D.3d 825, 826; Clark v Clark, 33 A.D.3d 836, 837).

Contrary to the father's contention, the provisions in the parties' stipulation of settlement and a so-ordered stipulation dated July 27, 2009, are clear and unambiguous, and required him to pay 50% of the college expenses of the parties' children regardless of their emancipation. Further, the father's obligation included expenses which were paid from the proceeds of loans obtained by the parties' child Mark. Accordingly, the Family Court properly granted the mother's petition to the extent that the father was required to pay college expenses after the children's emancipation, and included money paid from loan proceeds.

The court erred, however, in directing the mother to present proper documentation directly to the father with respect to college expenses in order to trigger his duty to pay. The documentation should be provided to the Family Court to allow it to determine whether the college expenses were mandatory and, therefore, payable by the father pursuant to the parties' agreement. If deemed necessary by the court, after the documentation is presented to the court by the mother, a limited inquiry may be conducted to allow the parties to present further evidence as to the amount of those expenses that had previously been paid by the father and the amount that he still owes to the mother.

The father's remaining contentions are without merit.

RIVERA, J.P., BALKIN, HALL and SGROI, JJ., concur.


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