At the heart of many family law related disputes lie arguably the most difficult decisions regarding the children and their futures. At times it may seem unlikely that individuals in the midst of a divorce will ever agree on anything; fortunately, ensuring that any children involved receive a quality education is usually a top priority for everyone. Setting aside differences for what is in the children’s best interest saves not only time but may also preserve important financial resources that may be reallocated to ensuring the children’s futures are preserved. “Agreements” as they are so appropriately called, may avoid costly litigation procedures, and provide the parents with the opportunity to freely discuss, negotiate, and formulate what they mutually believe to be a plan that will best serve the interests of their children.
The freedom to contract is an important legal principle and when utilized correctly, can be both an effective and efficient means of resolving issues. A recent North Carolina Court of Appeals case, New v. New, discusses the implications and consequences where parents utilize this right to resolve how to care for their child as they confront arguably the biggest step of any child’s life: attending college. In New, the parties agreed to pay off their children’s “ordinary and necessary” college expenses. When it came time to pay up, “ordinary and necessary” became a point of contention. Language in any agreement is crucial, and given the general stance that parties are free to negotiate how they see fit, it is imperative that any ambiguities are either understood and accepted or limited and clarified during formation. Here, the parties initially worked together, saving time and money in coming to an agreement, only to end up right back in a courtroom, litigating a language based issue that could have been potentially resolved at negotiations.