A Pennsylvania court has ruled that an attorney is bound by the terms of a child custody agreement that requires him to pay $10,000 to his ex-partner every time he files a court action to modify the agreement.
In a somewhat ironic twist, it turns out the attorney drafted the agreement himself, reports The Patriot-News. Although a lower court had ruled in the attorney's favor, finding that the agreement was void as being counter to public policy concerns, the state Superior Court -- one of two statewide appellate courts -- disagreed.
How might this lawyer's own legal work end up costing him?
Child Custody Agreement
When attorney James Weaver and his then-partner Amy Huss signed the custody agreement that is the subject of their ongoing court battle, they didn't yet have a child together. But according to Huss, Weaver drafted the agreement and advised her to sign it.
Under the terms of the agreement, Huss would have primary custody of any child born to the couple. Furthermore, Weaver agreed to pay $10,000 to Huss any time he filed a court action to attempt to modify the terms of the agreement.
After the couple had a child in 2010, Weaver subsequently filed several different custody modification pleas. After Weaver failed to pay the $10,000 due for each filing under the terms of the agreement, Huss brought suit for breach of contract.
Clause Not Necessarily an Impediment: Superior Court
Huss' suit was dismissed in county court after a judge found the $10,000 was unenforceable because allowing such clauses could have a "chilling effect" on parents' ability to file legitimate custody actions.
In overturning the lower court ruling, the Superior Court found that unlike an agreement in which a parent gives up the right to child support payments -- which would be unenforceable -- a clause such as the one in Weaver's agreement does not necessarily restrict his right to seek custody modifications, it just makes him pay for it. Although in some instances $10,000 may be a prohibitive cost, in the agreement Weaver acknowledges that he "is an attorney capable of earning a large salary."
Sending the case back to county court for additional proceedings, the Superior Court noted that in addition to $10,000 for each filing, Weaver may also now be on the hook for breach of contract damages.