In Huss v. Weaver, 2014 Pa. Super. 238, the parties entered into a written agreement, “in which they agreed that if their relationship resulted in the birth of a child, Huss (mother) would have primary physical custody and Weaver (father) would have specified visitation rights, and that if Weaver sought court modification of these terms he would pay Huss $10,000 for each such attempt.” The parties executed the agreement in 2008 and they had a son in November of 2010. In December 2010, Weaver filed for custody.
Thereafter, Huss filed a complaint with the trial court for Weaver’s breach of their agreement and his failure to pay her $10,000 as provided for in the contract. The trial court dismissed Huss’ complaint, ruling that the provision which provided for the $10,000 payments was “void as against public policy.” Huss thereafter appealed to the Superior Court.
It is important to note that Weaver was a practicing attorney at the time he entered the agreement with Huss. Weaver had previously provided Huss with legal counsel, and a member of Weaver’s law firm drafted the agreement at issue herein.
The trial court found for Weaver and likened the agreement to an agreement for child support. Prior caselaw holds that the right to child support belongs to the child, and a parent cannot “bargain away” that right.
The Superior Court disagreed with the trial court and determined that while custody agreements are always modifiable by the court, “in the best interests of the child”, the clause at issue did not affect the child’s rights. The Superior Court determined that they were not aware of any public policy which was violated by the specific clause in this agreement. This case also raises the question of whether an attorney can draft an agreement and later claim that the agreement is unenforceable. The Superior Court upheld prior caselaw in making their ultimate determination in this case, however, in a footnote to the opinion, the court alludes to the fact that any ambiguities in a contract should be construed against the drafter. (ie. Weaver)
This case is important because it discusses a contract for custody made between parents before their child was even conceived. Written, signed agreements are viewed as binding contracts by the court, no matter what the subject matter. A party to any type of contract should review all issues with an attorney before “signing on the dotted line”.