I was sitting in court one morning waiting for my case to be called. Before the judge called my matter, she heard the case of a man who was accused of not paying his child support for a significant period of time. His defense seemed plausible enough: He had, in fact, paid his support. The judge asked for proof of his payments. He stated that he was able to prove some of his payments, but not others. The reason: He had a garage fire and most of his cancelled checks were destroyed in the fire. The judge credited him for each payment which he could prove that he made; but each payment for which he could not provide proof, the judge ordered him to pay it (he would say, pay it again), plus interest at the rate of ten percent (10%) per year.

Support obligations never disappear. They do not go away. They are not usually forgotten. And the state legislature has made it very difficult for the person that owes child support to become free of that obligation without paying it and providing proof of the payment. Other civil judgments fall off the books if they are not renewed between 7 and 10 years after the judgments are entered. Civil judgments are also subject to other equitable doctrines which could prevent their enforcement if too much time has passed since they were entered. But these defenses to the enforcement of support judgments are not available to those who have been ordered to pay child support.

Once, a gentleman in his 70’s came to me for my help. He had paid his support years ago. In fact, he made his last payment 40 years earlier. However, his ex-wife, now advanced in age and with a very poor recollection, claimed that he had not made a single payment on his child support–not a single one. His payments of $50 per child per month (2 children), together with interest, had accrued to over $50,000. His ex-wife’s attorney recorded a lien against his home. When he came to me for help, the first thing I asked for was proof of his payments. Naturally, after 40 years, he did not have any proof of payment. Fortunately for him, he had made payments through the Court Trustee’s office. I called DCSS and demanded their records. Somehow someone found the records which had been in storage for over 40 years and almost all of his payments were confirmed. That client was a little bit lucky.

So, what should someone do who is ordered to pay child support? First, make sure that you make your payment. Second, keep proof of that payment. And third, do something that very few family law attorneys will ever advise you to do–periodically demand that the person to whom you have paid support file with the court (and record with the county recorder) a document entitled “Satisfaction of Judgment.” This document costs little to prepare and relatively little to file and record. But once it is recorded, it becomes a permanent record, a record which is the only way to prove that you have made all of your support payments (even if someone demands payment 50 years later).

In addition, one could request that an installment judgment such as child support, be satisfied as of a certain date. That is, one may ask the other party that all payments have been made as ordered to and including a certain date, even if other payments may come due at a later date. But whatever else one does, that person should ensure that proof of the child support payment is retained until the satisfaction of judgment is filed and recorded.

© H. F. Layton 2010

This information is not provided as legal advice. This information is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice regarding your particular situation.

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