Obermayer Partner Michael E. Bertin’s “Statute of Limitations Bars Enforcement of Provision in Property Settlement Agreement” Published in The Legal Intelligencer
The interplay between the statute of limitations for contracts and property settlement agreements has been debated and appeared in numerous appellate opinions over the years. 42 Pa.C.S. Section 5525(a)(8) provides that generally an action upon a contract must be commenced within four years. When parties divorce, there is often a property settlement agreement (also referred to as a marital settlement agreement) executed by the parties resolving the economic aspects of their divorce. Over the years, the courts have analyzed whether property settlement agreements (or provisions contained therein) are continuing contracts. When a contract is a “continuing contract,” the question becomes when does the four-year statute of limitations begin.
The recent case of Weber v. Weber, ___ A.3d ___, 2019 PA Super. 133 (April 26, 2019), addresses this issue. The facts of the Weber case are very intricate and reflect a case with quite resiliency to reach a final result. When one reads the opinion, visions of a boxer continually coming back from his corner to re-engage for one more punch appear. This case has reached the Pennsylvania Superior Court two times. The first time that it appeared before the Superior Court the issue pertained to standing. The present appeal was between the husband in a divorce matter and his son. In the first appeal, the Superior Court reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the matter due to the son’s lack of standing and remanded the case. This most recent decision arises from the trial court’s disposal of the case on the remand.
The pertinent facts of the Weber matter are as follows: Mr. and Mrs. Weber executed a property settlement agreement in 1999 and were divorced in 2000. In their agreement there contained a provision (paragraph 18) that was titled: “post-secondary education.” Paragraph 18 stated: “parents shall share equally the reasonable costs of an appropriate undergraduate college or other post-secondary education for the children.” Approximately seven years later, when the parties’ son was a freshman at Florida State University (FSU), the wife filed a petition to enforce the agreement because the husband failed to pay his share of the son’s tuition. In that matter, the son was granted intervenor status but the matter was later withdrawn by the wife.
When the son was approximately 28 years old, in 2016, he filed a petition for special relief asserting that he graduated from FSU and incurred a total cost for his education of $166,148.71, one-half of which is $79,988.44, plus interest on his student loans of approximately $24,000. According to the opinion, the husband only paid $9,085.92. The son’s petition was dismissed for lack of standing where the trial court reasoned that because the wife withdrew her petition years earlier he lacked standing. The Superior Court thereafter reversed that decision and remanded the matter. On remand, the husband filed a motion for summary judgment where he argued that the “son’s 2016 petition was time-barred by the statute of limitations.”
This content was originally posted in The Legal Intelligencer.