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Court rules no statute of limitations for unpaid child support

With today's technology, almost anyone's contact information can be found with only a few keystrokes. Because of this ease, many people in Massachusetts may not be fully aware of how difficult it was to locate someone several decades ago. A recent case involving decades' worth of unpaid child support hinges on the fact that the mother claims she was unable to locate her former husband.

The father, a former Marine, and mother involved in the case married in 1970. They had two children and divorced in 1977. At that time, the father agreed to pay $160 each month to the mother as long as she remained unmarried and did not cohabitate with a man for a period of 18 months. Despite the agreement, the woman claims that the man disappeared soon afterward, and she was unable to contact him.

She was told by the Marines that he was AWOL, and he was discharged in 1996 due to bad conduct. When she remarried in 1979, she says she stopped looking for him. However, a question from her now-adult son prompted her to search for him on an online search engine in 2014, and she was able to locate him.

Although she made no effort to search for the man for approximately 35 years, she sought to have the spousal and child support agreement enforced, but the man successfully cited a defense of laches, a delay in seeking relief. In an appeal, the Maine appeals court partially ruled in her favor by arguing that allowing such a defense in cases involving child support ultimately rewards a parent for failing to uphold his or her financial and legal responsibilities and penalizes children if a parent delays action to enforce an agreement. While there is no statute of limitations for child support according to the ruling, the same does not apply for spousal support because, in this case, the person impacted was the woman who failed to seek enforcement. The ruling also cited several other states, including New York, Indiana and Vermont, that have issued similar rulings.

While timely action can be beneficial in cases involving child support, circumstances can often prevent that from happening. Regardless of how old an agreement is, many in Massachusetts seek to ensure that a former spouse meets his or her financial responsibilities to the children. Some people may find themselves struggling to meet court-ordered requirement; however, seeking a modification can help avoid complications in the future.

Source: courthousenews.com, "Missing Marine Can't Dodge Child Support", Jeff D. Gorman, Oct. 4, 2016

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