Domestic relations. Lowndes Superior Court. Before Judge Horkan.
Dodd & Burnham, Wilburn B. Burnham II; Durant Law, M. Katherine Durant, for appellant.
David A. Webster, for appellee.
Thompson, Chief Justice.
Gary Don Mims (husband) and Lynn Bassford Mims (wife) married in 1986 and were divorced in 2008. At the time of their divorce, two of the couple's four children were minors. The final divorce decree incorporated a settlement agreement entered into by the parties in which husband agreed to pay the costs of a college education for all of the children. In a paragraph entitled " College Tuition" the agreement provided:
For so long as the child (child refers to all children of the parties) maintains passing grades and attends school full time, the Husband agrees to pay the cost of a college education in an amount not to exceed the costs for tuition, books, student activities fees, housing, food, etc., for a full-time,
in-state student to obtain a four-year undergraduate degree at Valdosta State University or another accredited university upon which the parties agree.
In 2010, the couple's youngest daughter graduated from high school and enrolled in Valdosta State University (" VSU" ) beginning Fall Semester 2010. In February 2012, wife filed a contempt action against husband alleging that he had failed to pay college expenses for their daughter as required under the terms of the settlement agreement. Finding that daughter had been a full-time college student from Fall 2010 through and including Fall 2013 and had [297 Ga. 71] maintained passing grades the Superior Court of Lowndes County entered an order directing husband to pay daughter's college expenses for all nine semesters she had attended, minus amounts credited for daughter's receipt of the Hope Scholarship and Pell Grants. The trial court declined to find husband in contempt, however, determining that he had not received notification of the expenses incurred by daughter prior to wife's filing her complaint. This Court granted husband's application for discretionary appeal to determine whether the trial court erred when it ordered husband to pay daughter's expenses for each of the nine semesters she had attended college. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the decision below.
Husband argues that the trial court erred when it ordered him to pay daughter's college expenses incurred after Fall Semester 2010. He asserts that because daughter withdrew from a class during Spring Semester 2011 and only completed eleven of the fifteen credit hours for which she was registered, she had not attended school full time during that semester as contemplated by the settlement agreement and his obligation to provide for her educational expenses thereafter ceased. Husband contends that regardless of the school's definition of full-time student, the plain language of the settlement agreement required daughter to successfully complete and obtain academic credit for a full-time course load each semester or his obligation to pay her college expenses under the agreement would terminate. Alternatively, husband argues that the trial court erred in finding him obligated to pay daughter's college expenses beyond Spring Semester 2012 when she only enrolled in and completed nine credit hours.
Without question, husband's obligation to pay college expenses for his adult daughter arose solely from the parties' settlement agreement. See Marshall v. Marshall, 262 Ga. 443 (421 S.E.2d 71) (1992) [297 Ga. 72] (" Neither a judge nor jury may require a parent to provide child support beyond the age of majority." ). However, once the parties'
settlement agreement was approved by the trial court and incorporated into the final divorce decree, husband's obligation to pay these expenses became an enforceable order of the court. See Bullard, supra at 579. Pursuant to the terms of the agreement, husband was obligated to pay (with some limitations) the cost of a college education for each of his children, including daughter, " [f]or so long as the child ... maintains passing grades and attends school full time." Thus, in ...