The “Voluntary Payments” clause of the parties’ divorce stipulation of settlement prevented an ex-husband from using his non-required payments as an offset against his unpaid obligations. So held the First Department in its January 28, 2014 decision in Trepel v. Trepel. Doing so, the appeallate court affirmed the order of New York County Supreme Court Justice Lori S. Sattler that had awarded the ex-wife $38,994 in arrears for unpaid cost-of-living increases in child support and distributive award interest, plus $2,500 in counsel fees.

The “Voluntary Payments” clause provided that “[a]ny payments made by either party to the other . . . shall not alter that party’s legal obligations hereunder (except to the extent it discharges or satisfies such obligations), nor create any precedent for the future.”

The First Department held that this clause clearly and unambiguously expressed the intent of the parties. Since the payments to the ex-wife that the ex-husband was not obligated to make, however generous, did not satisfy any of his obligations under the stipulation, he remained liable for the unpaid COLA increases and distributive award interest required by the stipulation.

A July 12, 2013 decision of Justice Sattler in this matter held that the fact that the father set his daughter up with her own apartment when not away at college could not be used by the father as a basis to discontinue making child support payments to the mother. That decision in Trepel v. Trepel, was the subject of my July 24, 2013 blog post. It is not stated whether the payments for the apartment were the voluntary payments made by the ex-husband which could not be used to offset other obligations.

Peter Bienstock, of Hennessey & Bienstock, LLP, of Manhattan, represented the ex-husband. Michael W. Appelbaum, of Grant & Appelbaum, P.C., of Manhattan, represented the ex-wife.