A California Court of Appeals has ruled that a Trial Court was not wrong by declining to enforce a 25-year-old child support judgment on equitable grounds where Mother had concealed Children for 15 years. In the case of In re Marriage of Boswell, Mother and Father were divorced in October of 1985. Their divorce judgment awarded custody of their two children, ages five and three, to Mother and ordered Father to pay child support of $70 per month per child. Father made his child support payments as required for two months. By that time, Mother had moved from California with Children, changed their names, and failed to tell Father their new addresses. Unable to locate Mother and Children, Father stopped paying child support. He did not see Children for the next 15 years. By then, the first Child had reached the age of majority. In 1998, M “gave” Father custody of the second Child, then 16 years-old, who lived with Father until he reached majority.
In 2013, when Children were over 30, Mother filed a motion to enforce the child support order, seeking a judgment of $92,734. Trial Court reasoned that enforcing the order on these facts would be “inequitable,” and that Mother’s having concealed Children for 15 years was “unjust.” Trial Court also determined that Mother’s motion was untimely and barred by laches. Accordingly, Trial Court denied Mother’s motion. Claiming that Trial Court relied on erroneous reasoning and that laches did not apply, Mother appealed.
California Court of Appeals has now affirmed Trial Court’s decision. The Appellate Court has ruled that (1) Trial Court has broad equitable discretion to decline to enforce a child support arrearages judgment on a finding of “unclean hands;” (2) where Trial Court makes fair and equitable ruling on contested issues of fact, its express or implied factual determinations are binding on appeal. The Appellate Court has further ruled that Trial Court was wrong in basing its denial of Mother’s motion, in part, on laches (laches applies only to child support owed to State). The Appellate Court describes this appeal as “another frivolous family law appeal,” but declines to impose sanctions for filing frivolous appeal because Mother “believes, and apparently prosecuted this appeal, because of [Trial Court’s] ruling on laches.”