Normally, unpaid child support is like living life in the fast lane. Sooner or later, it is all going to catch up to you. In other words, unlike other unpaid debts, unpaid child support usually never goes away, which means that there is no statute of limitations regarding enforcement and the person to whom the child support is owed may still collect on that obligation even after the children are adults. Even bankruptcy won’t make a difference.
However, there is one exception, and that is concealment. Under this exception, if the custodial parent, i.e., the parent to whom support was owed, concealed the child or children during minority, that parent, when there are no more minor children, will be unable to collect child support that was not paid because of that concealment. The Supreme Court declared this to be the law in 2004, and just recently, the California Court of Appeal ruled 3-0 that the concealment argument is alive and well.
The court’s decision came in a case called Marriage of Boswell, which arose in Ventura County. In this case, the parties had two children but then divorced. After a child support order was made, the mother took off with the children from California and even changed their names. The father ended up not seeing the children for most of their minority and also did not pay child support obligation that had been imposed upon him.
In 2013, with the children in their 30s, the mother sought a judgment for unpaid child support against the father for nearly $100,000. Presumably, this amount included interest of 10%, which is the legal rate in California. However, the mother lost because the trial court found that her conduct was “terribly eggregious”.
The mother decided to appeal, and the appellate court used language that was even more hostile. In the first sentence of its opinion, the court stated “this is another frivolous family law appeal”. Ouch. “It was ‘dead on arrival’ at the appellate courthouse”. Ouch again.
The court went on to say that “Mother has no appreciation for the rules on appeal”. Ouch a third time. The court almost imposed sanctions (a fine) against the mother and her attorney.
Although concealment remains a defense, it requires something more than being uncooperative or frustrating visitation. It probably requires such secretive or mysterious conduct by the custodial parent that the noncustodial parent, even acting with diligence, could not figure out where the children were. Accordingly, “concealment” is a rare finding by family law courts in California.
Although this case arose in Ventura County, appeals court decisions in California are binding on all trial courts throughout the state unless there is a contrary holding by another appellate court. The opinion in Boswell was issued on April 28, 2014.