With the importance of higher education in today’s society, many couples who are contemplating divorce must discuss not only how child support will be divided while their children are growing up, but also whether, and how, their children’s higher education expenses will be addressed. A recent Wisconsin child support case before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals looks at how to address college expenses when a marital settlement agreement is ambiguous about this responsibility.
In Marriage of North v. Farris, Ms. North and Mr. Farris divorced after four years of marriage. During the course of their marriage, they had two daughters together. Ms. North and Mr. Farris agreed to a marital settlement agreement during the course of their divorce, which included provisions for child custody and child support. The MSA also provided for the payment of higher education expenses. It stated that Mr. Farris would pay for five years of tuition and books, should their children go to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and would split room and board with Ms. North.
The couple’s daughter Natalie attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and took 10 semesters (five years) to graduate, plus three summer sessions. Ms. North sought reimbursement from Mr. Farris for these expenses, but Mr. Farris refused to pay for the last two semesters of Natalie’s schooling, saying that the MSA obligated him only to pay for five school years, or 10 semesters, which Natalie had already exceeded. Ms. North argued that the MSA required Mr. Farris to pay for five calendar years, regardless of the number of sessions or semesters Natalie completed.