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Mazurek v. Russell

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

June 24, 2014

EDWARD S. MAZUREK, Appellant
v.
JOANNE R. RUSSELL, Appellee

Page 373

Appeal from the Order Entered August 6, 2013, in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Civil Division at No(s): 2008-14339. Before COONAHAN, J.

Edward Mazurek, appellant, pro se.

Charles J. Meyer, Philadelphia, for appellee.

BEFORE: ALLEN, MUNDY, and JENKINS, JJ. OPINION BY ALLEN, J. Judge Jenkins files a Concurring Statement.

OPINION

Page 374

OPINION BY ALLEN, J.:

Edward S. Mazurek (" Father" ) appeals pro se [1] from the order granting the Petition for Contempt of Property Settlement Regarding Undergraduate Expenses filed by Joanne R. Russell (" Mother" ).

Father and Mother are the divorced parents of four children. On April 20, 2010, they executed a property settlement agreement (" PSA" ) which provides:

14. Undergraduate Education.
14.1 It is the parties' intention that the Children attend such undergraduate institutions as are reasonable and appropriate for the Children, with the parties' mutual consent, which consent shall not be unreasonably withheld. In addition to the other payments set forth in this Agreement, [Father] shall pay one hundred percent (100%) of the reasonable expenses associated with the Children attending such institutions. Such expenses shall include, but not necessarily be limited to, all reasonable test and application fees, tuition costs, fees, room and board (other than at [Mother's] residence), and books.
14.2 Contractual Obligation. The payments provided for in this Paragraph 14 are not to be considered in the nature of child support and, as such, shall not be modifiable. This obligation for [Father] to pay the expenses under this Paragraph 14 shall be considered contractual in nature, and shall not be governed by case law or the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure.

PSA, 4/20/10, at 30-31 (emphasis supplied).[2]

On July 8, 2013, Mother filed an Emergency Petition for Contempt of Property Settlement Regarding Undergraduate Expenses incurred by the parties' third child, Luke, as a matriculating freshman at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. Father filed a Response in Opposition to Mother's Petition for Contempt of Property Settlement Agreement Regarding Undergraduate Expenses on July 11, 2013.

In his response, Father explained that he had paid Luke's private school expenses

Page 375

from preschool through high school, but averred " I have not consented to Luke attending Marymount Manhattan College and that consent has not been unreasonably withheld." Response in Opposition, 7/11/13, at 2. At paragraph 6, Father averred, " The allegations that [Mother and her counsel] have made ... to the effect that I have consented to Luke attending Marymount Manhattan College are knowingly and blatantly false." Id. at 3. Father repeated that he did not consent to Luke's attendance and explained:

...I clearly stated I did NOT consent to Luke attending Marymount Manhattan College. My initial decision as Luke's Father for withholding my unconditional consent in that regard had several components ...

Id. at 4. Father incorporated and referenced a June 24, 2013 email he sent to Mother in which he expressed concern about Luke's " lackluster" academic performance in high school, and referenced Luke's estrangement from Father " for over 5 years now despite my pleas to him and you ..." Id. at 6. Father stated, " it is absurd to expect me to pay $200,000 for a person's college education where that person wants nothing to do with me." Id. Father then explained that he would pay for Luke's college expenses at Marymount Manhattan College if the estrangement ended, if Father was permitted access to Luke's college grades and academic records, if Luke would maintain a 3.0 grade point average, and if Luke not take his car to college in New York City. Id. at 6-7. Father continued to aver that he did not consent to Luke's attendance at Marymount Manhattan College. See id. at 7-9.

Our review of the record indicates that Father attached two email exhibits to his response in opposition. The first email, from Father to Luke, dated May 2, 2013, reads as follows:

Since you have not included me in, or kept me informed of, anything having to do with your college application process or college selection process, I want you to know my thoughts on your decision to send a deposit to Manhattan Marymount.
I do not believe Manhattan Marymount is a good choice for you, even among the schools to which you have been accepted of which I'm aware. I can elaborate on the factors that support this assessment, but I'm not sure that would be constructive. In sum, it is not worth $50,000 per year -- $200,000 for four -- especially where you have other better choices, and would have had even more better choices had you included me in the application process. That is a fact.
That being the case, I believe Emerson would be an excellent place for you, assuming, of course, that you are genuinely committed to doing the work and do it when you're there. (Hundreds of thousands of dollars should not be wasted on poor or mediocre performance.) But, you have not been accepted or rejected by Emerson yet, and remain on the wait list. I have been imploring you in emails and text messages to please call me to undertake immediately a strategy consisting of concrete actions to gain admittance to Emerson from the wait list. To date, you have completely ignored me. Because of the urgency and critical importance of this matter, I am imploring you again. Please call or text or email me with a time to meet to discuss what we have to do to gain your admittance into Emerson. I cannot do it without your input and participation. It would be foolish to spurn me in this life-changing situation because I can truly help. I can't guarantee that you'll get in. But, I can guarantee that your

Page 376

chances will be exponentially better with my involvement. Please call me ASAP.

Love, Dad

Response in Opposition, 7/11/13, Exhibit A.

Approximately two months later, in an email sent to Mother dated June 24, 2013, Father wrote:

On the matter of Luke's college, I want to make several points. Since Luke is no longer at the Prep [high school], I do not have an email address for him, so please forward this email to him if you deem it appropriate.
... Back in 2010 when we entered into the Divorce Settlement Agreement, you agreed to cooperate with me in connection with our children and I, in turn, agreed to pay for Luke's educational expenses. ... Because Luke estranged himself from me and you have been unwilling to cooperate with me, I had no role in the selection of suitable colleges to which he should have applied. Likewise, I had no role in the selection of the school he plans to attend for $50,000 a year. Especially given Luke's performance at the Prep, these were decisions in which I should have clearly been involved as his Father, especially if you or he expected me to pay for his college. ... Unless [Luke's estrangement] changes immediately and Luke has me back in his life ... I will not pay for his educational expenses. As I said, it is absurd to expect me to pay $200,000 for a person's college education where that person wants nothing to do with me. ...
Additionally, if Luke wants me to pay for his college, Luke will have to agree in writing when he turns 18 to waive any privacy rights he has under FERPA to permit me full and direct access to his college records. I have no intention of having a repeat performance in being misled about my child's college status and progress without having the ability directly and immediately to verify his status and progress on an ongoing basis. ...
Having access to Luke's college records will enable me to determine whether Luke is meeting acceptable standards of academic performance sufficient to justify having me continue to pay the extremely high cost of over $50,000 a year for his college. Luke is an exceptionally bright boy -- much brighter than his lackluster grades reflect. Luke is able to dominate academically at Manhattan Marymount and I hope to God he does. By dominate, I mean the summa cum laude range of 3.75 GPA. But, whether he academically dominates or not, he will have to maintain an absolute minimum GPA of 3.0 and satisfy all other academic requirements in each and every semester for me to continue to pay for such an extremely expensive school. This standard is lower than many colleges maintain when they pay for a student's education in whole or in part through scholarships. For Luke to maintain the scholarship I am effectively being asked to provide him, he will have to maintain the decidedly reasonable academic standards that I have established.
Finally, Luke will not be permitted to have his car at college. He does not need it, it will be a distraction from his academic life, and it creates a high risk of huge wasteful expenses in parking tickets and impoundment and towing fees in New York City.
I am trying to get the money for his first semester. Because neither you nor he has communicated with me in any way, shape or form about a single detail of the expenses you expect me to pay, I have no idea what amount ...

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