Custody Agreement – Be Careful What you Bargain For

A self-imposed financial penalty in a custody agreement was recently upheld by the Superior Court against a father who had agreed to pay damages for seeking a modification of his own child custody schedule. In the matter of Huss v. Weaver, 2016 Pa. Super. 24, the Court held that the father’s custody agreement to pay $10,000 to the mother each time he seeks a custodial modification was enforceable, rejecting the father’s argument that the stipulation violates public policy.

In general, public policy is used by the Courts to reinforce social expectations and societal norms that reflect morality. In this case, the father argued that it was inappropriate to require an individual to pay damages to request a change in custody agreement orders because it is contrary to the normal expectations of the public. The father, who is a lawyer, argued that the $10,000 penalty to which he had agreed violated public policy against bargaining away custody or visitation rights.

Ability to Challenge Custody Agreement

The Court found that, unlike child support cases, the parents can enter a custody agreement that may affect one party’s ability to challenge or modify the custodial arrangement. In contrast, the Court has previously held that children have the right to be supported, so that any efforts by parents to dispose of the obligation to pay support by agreement with the other parent should be struck down as against public policy. When it comes to custodial rights, the same public policy is not invoked, according to the decision.

The ruling relates only to the interpretation of the parent’s contract, so it does not otherwise affect the Court’s treatment of the best interests of children when considering the modification request. The father’s obligation to pay liquidated damages to the mother for the necessity of addressing modification requests is enforceable. Contact our family law attorneys to review your custody agreement before you sign.

Custody Agreement – Be Careful What you Bargain For was last modified: March 3rd, 2016 by Judith Homan