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Bowmer v. Bowmer
New York Court of Appeals
50 N.Y.2d 288, 406 N.E.2d 760 (1980)
John and Dorothy Bowmer entered into a separation agreement that provided for John’s alimony and child-support payments using a specific formula. The agreement included an arbitration clause stating that any claim arising from the agreement, any payment default by John, or any matter made arbitrable by the agreement would be arbitrated. Several provisions in the agreement designated specific matters, but not modifications to the support formula, as arbitrable. Instead, the support provisions were detailed and specific, with flexibility built into the formula itself to account for changes in John’s circumstances. John notified Dorothy that he would be reducing his support payments due to changed circumstances at home. Dorothy refused to agree and further refused to arbitrate the question of whether John could alter his payment formula. John still made the payment adjustment, and Dorothy invoked the arbitration clause to compel his formulated payment. John then filed suit in New York state court to stay the arbitration that Dorothy had commenced and to compel arbitration on the issue of whether he could modify his payment obligations using the steps he had taken. The trial court ruled in favor of John, and Dorothy appealed. The appellate court modified the trial court’s ruling, finding that the issue of payment reductions was nonarbitrable. John appealed to the New York Court of Appeals, claiming that under the separation agreement, an arbitrator had the power to modify John’s support obligations.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Fuchsberg, J.)
Dissent (Gabrielli, J.)
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