Q: My husband’s parents paid for his last two years of college out of pocket when their college savings fund ran out. Three years later, while we were planning our wedding, they claimed he had verbally agreed to start paying them back once he was married and settled. Out of a sense of honor and duty, we’ve been sending them $100 a month in the three and one-half years since then, mostly to pay them back for his cellphone bill, car insurance, and health insurance costs they incurred on his behalf after he’d gotten a full-time job but while he was still on their plans (he was unaware of this agreement, as well, until they wrote up a “bill” that they mailed to him). However, they’ve asked two or three times now for more than $100 a month. My husband refuses but is terrified of being sued. There is absolutely no signed document saying he agreed to pay them back. But assuming they kept all other pertinent documents (college bills, etc.), is there even the smallest, remotest chance they could sue? I believe the total was around $90,000, but they keep lowering it to make it seem more agreeable. They absolutely do not need the money; his father recently retired from a six-figure salary. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: If they pursue 90K they cannot file in Civil Arbitration and therefore would have to sue in General Docket, Civil Division. They probably do not have the skill to file a complaint on their own in the General Docket of Allegheny County. They would need an attorney. Most attorneys would decline such a suit. However, there are attorneys that would take the case if they are paid good money, non-refundable, up front. If they sue for 50K and under in Civil Arbitration, they may be able to cobble together a form complaint on their own without an attorney if they cannot find an attorney interested. In either General Docket or Civil Arbitration, the case is not good unless they have an agreement in writing or good corroborating witnesses that state your husband agreed to pay back his college tuition. I had a similar case. The parents were bitter and angry at their adopted daughter for some reason and when she left the home to go out on her own, sued her. They found a young lawyer to file an Arbitration complaint for money up front. Nothing was in writing and there was no firm verbal agreement to repay anything. The Arbitration panel was not impressed and issued an award for the defendant. I wouldn’t lose sleep over a potential lawsuit from them.