Husband could renege on promise to pay grown kids’ rent

A divorcing couple in New York signed an agreement saying that the husband would pay their two adult children $1,900 apiece each month to help cover their rent, until they turned 30 or began living with a significant other. The parents made this agreement because they thought it would help keep them on good terms with each other and make their divorce less contentious.

Later, the husband broke his promise – he gave each child a $10,000 lump sum and told them they had nothing else coming. The wife then went to court to enforce the deal.

How much the children actually needed the cash is up for debate, since they both graduated from Ivy League universities and were gainfully employed. But a promise is a promise, right?

Not so fast.

In business, a contract isn’t valid unless there’s something called “consideration.” That means that each side must give up something of value. A contract in which one side agrees to do something and the other side does nothing in return is not enforceable.

And a New York judge said that this concept is valid not only for business contracts, but also for family agreements. As a result, since neither the mother nor the children had promised anything in return for the rent payments, the husband didn’t have to keep making them.

The moral of the story is that you should talk with your family lawyer about any written or unwritten agreements you make with your spouse in the context of a divorce. Even if you have a signed contract, it might not be worth the paper it’s printed on.