Carlson v. Carlson (Nebraska 2018)
In a divorce, parents may enter into a property settlement agreement (PSA) on all terms, including child support. Once approved, the PSA becomes a judgment, and when construction issues arise, the court must use the four corners of document. During the divorce proceeding, the parents agreed to a term of the PSA that the father “may pay” child support past the age of emancipation if certain conditions were met. Several years later, the father stopped paying support for the youngest child, and the mother filed an action for declaratory judgment. The father also filed for a declaratory judgment or to modify the PSA. The district court construed the decree to read that the father’s support obligation continued past emancipation and dismissed his modification request. The father appealed, arguing that the word “may” was permissive, not mandatory. In the alternative, the court should have granted his motion to modify the post-support provision. The Supreme Court agreed with the district court. It read all the provisions of the PSA together and found that the terms supported continuing his obligation past the age of majority as long as the conditions were met. It further found that when parents voluntarily agree to a term such a post-majority support in a PSA, the term will not be modified unless there is fraud or gross inequity.