Can I Sue My Father for Education Expenses and a Car That He Promised Me?

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“My father felt that he was in a position to “tarnish his family” name by recognizing that I was born, and between my mother and him, I was kept a secret. My father did not pay child support. My mother raised me on her own. When I was nearing 14, I asked about my father. My mom told me their story, and with my pressing her, she finally took my father to court for paternity and support. He was not happy with this, but when the paternity was legally established, child support was put in place at $180/week. My father was married and had 2 young daughters at this time. He didn’t tell his wife about me, and by chance she found out on her own. At that time, I was introduced to his family including all my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. I was accepted with open arms and glad not to be a secret anymore. My father seemed uncomfortable about this however, but we established a relationship just the same.

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On my 18th birthday this past January, I moved out of my mother’s home and in with my boyfriend. When my father got wind of this, he took my mother to court to terminate child support for me stating that since I didn’t live with my mom, he shouldn’t have to pay support. Remember, he had only actually started paying support when I was 14, but he wanted out of it now. A conference was held and my mother agreed to the support termination due to the fact that I was out on my own. My father told her and the support referee that “he would take of his daughter”. I was still in high school and would graduate in a few months.

Since I didn’t have a job and was using my boyfriend’s car, I would go to my father for money. Afterall, he did say that he would take care of me. My father comes from a prestigious family, is the executive director of our city’s housing authority, dabbles in real estate, and lives a very comfortable life. He drives a company vehicle, travels a lot, and lives in a beautiful house. When I would go to him for money for school lunch or gas to go to school, he would throw a few dollars my way and act very put out by my being there. He did however tell me that it was important for me to graduate high school, go to college and get a job. He also told me that if I did graduate high school, he would buy me a car. In addition, when his parents found out about me, they requested my social security number to buy bonds for me (or something like that) for college. My grandfather had passed away a few months ago unfortunately.

I graduated high school, got a summer job with the playground program, and have enrolled at Penn State Schuylkill Campus which is only 5 miles from where I live. The summer job has ended, but I got another job part-time at a video store and started my first class just this week.

My problem is with my father. He refuses to keep his word and buy me a car. He won’t give Penn State his financial information which is needed for me to get grants & loans although his daughters attend a private, Catholic school (a privilege I didn’t have). He told me that the money or bonds my grandparents had for me wouldn’t be given to me because I had moved in with my boyfriend (something they don’t believe in), and he is basically trying to push me out of his life now that I’m no longer a legal financial obligation to him.

My question is: Can I sue my father for education/college expenses and for a car that he promised to me? My boyfriend is just starting a job next week, I work a few days a week and attend classes. Money is very tight for us and with only one car between us, my getting to and from work and school is a juggling act. I feel that my father got off very easy not paying child support for 14 years and then terminating it 3 months early, and I also feel that I didn’t have the quality of life that my younger half-sisters have now because of my father not recognizing me for 14 years. I also feel that he is hindering my chances of a college education because of no transportation or information from him for me to apply for loans or grants. (It’s required by law whether I live with a parent or not to have one parent’s financial information.) My mother is not in a situation to help me although she does help by giving me money when I’m low on gas or need personal items.

My father has made me many promises and has kept none. He told my mother that he would take care of me and he didn’t. The last 3 months of high school, I had to borrow lunch money from friends. His word is no good and because of him treating me like a second-class citizen, I’m extremely stressed out and getting very depressed. I’m 18 years old, 5 foot 9 inches tall and weigh only 106 pounds. I’m trying to support myself, but it seems nearly impossible without a car to get back & forth to work and to go to school. I counted on my father to come through for me, and he hasn’t.

Is there any legal way for me to make my father keep the promises he’s made to me?”

The problem with donative promises – promises to make gifts – is that they are rarely enforceable. And sometimes people withdraw those gifts. And without consideration there is little the donee (you) can do.

Forget about the bonds. They were never promised, and they certainly can never be delivered.

The car in exchange for graduating high school. I am trying to figure out the best argument, and I do not know if it a winning one. Here are two views of potential contract arguments:

A. If the donative promise (1) induce reliance by the promisee (2) in a manner the promisor should reasonably have expected, the promise is enforceable (3) at least to the extent of the reliance. In Ricketts v. Scothorn, NE Sup. Ct., 1898. Grandfather promised granddaughter money “so she won’t have to work anymore,” and granddaughter quits job in reliance. Held: promise is enforceable under “equitable” estoppel. A promise that promisor can reasonably expect to induce reliance, and does induce actual reliance, is enforceable to extent necessary to prevent injustice.

BUT you’d basically have to show you would not have completed high school without the incentive laid out by your father (the car) for a Court to force him to give you a car. He might be impressed with the legal argument though and give you a car anyway.

Another problem though is I bet he did not tell you what kind of car. The gift might not be specific enough. Maybe your clever arguments can squeeze something running out of him.

B. Restatement of Contracts S90: A promise which the promisor should reasonably expect to induce action or forbearance on the part of the promisee or a third person and which does induce such action or forbearance is binding if injustice can be avoided only by enforcement of the promise. The remedy granted for breach may be limited as justice requires (See e.g. Hamer v. Sidway for a neat, nearly on point, fact pattern)

Did is promise induce you to act – to finish school? Seems like you were doing it anyway.

I don’t know if you want to take this stuff to Court. He didn’t help for 14 years, so I think you can kind of put him in the unhelpful in general box.

Never try to teach a pig to sing – it wastes your time and annoys the pig. That is not legal advice, but I hope the analogy is not lost.

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Author: House Attorney

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