Brief Fact Summary. Theresa (Daughter of Richard Chen (Father (D)) (D)) intervention in a support action brought against Richard Chen (D) by his former wife and Mother (P) of his Daughter, Wheamei Chen (P) was contended by Richard Chen (D) on the ground that his Daughter was only an incidental beneficiary, not an intended beneficiary of the property settlement agreement (Agreement) at issue.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. An action to enforce support provisions of a parent’s property settlement agreement, where the support payments are to be made to the custodial parent is at the option of the child.
When the words of a contract are clear and unambiguous, the meaning of the contract is ascertained from the contents alone.View Full Point of Law
Issue. does a child have the option of intervening or bring suit in an action to enforce support provisions of a parents’ property settlement agreement where the support payments are to be made to the custodial parent?
Held. (Baer, J.) No. An action to enforce support provisions of a parents’ property settlement agreement, where the support payments are to be made to the custodial parent is at the option of the child. The contention of the Father (D) was that at the time the Agreement was made, both parties did not view Daughter as an intended beneficiary, but as an incidental beneficiary. The Father (D) based is argument that his Daughter was not meant to be receiving the payment and that permitting children to intervene in their parents’ support agreement will open a lacuna for a child to sue his/her parent by equating the right to be supported with the right to support payments.
It is however clear that both parents intended to provide support for their Daughter but did not intend that their Daughter to receive the payments directly. Although the Agreement gave the Mother (P) the levity to exercise her discretion as a parent to determine how best to use the support funds provided by the Father (D) and to care and control their Daughter. Accordingly, Daughter is not an intended beneficiary under S 302 and so the judgment in favor of the Daughter was reversed because her right to performance is not “appropriate to effectuate the intention of the parties”.
Concurrence. (Cappy, C.J.) the court did not err in its decision on relying on the view of majority on contract law principles. However, the majority should not have widened the scope of the issue to include discussion of policy issues and other matters.
(Castille, J) the case should have been limited to the application of contract principles alone and this clearly spells it out that Daughter was not an intended beneficiary under S 302 because the Agreement stipulated that the Father (D) would make payment to the Mother (P) for Daughter’s benefit and not for Daughter to claim direct payment.
(Saylor, J.) Since the Agreement was basically to support; Daughter was an intended beneficiary during her minority. Minor children should not be given that right to initiate legal actions absent express statutory authority.
Discussion. This case typifies that the court supports children seeking to enforce provisions of their parents’ separation agreements’ express provisions that provide benefits to flowing directly to them. This clearly show that the children are intended rather than intended beneficiaries and so, resolving cases of this nature can be accomplished through contract principles alone without having rcourse to policy considerations.