Sunday, July 23, 2006

Case Law Development: Laches Defense Unavailable in Child Support Actions

California Family Code section 4502(c) applies retroactively and bars a parent from relying on laches to defend an action to enforce a child support order.   The California Supreme Court holds that the terms of the Family Code itself dictate retroactive application. Moreover, an exception to retroactive application of laws that create new duties does not apply to the laches defense as "Assertion of a laches defense seeks an equitable act of grace to relieve the burden of an existing obligation. Elimination of the defense does not create a new duty."

Moreover, the court rejected the due process challenge to retroactive application, holding that this application advances a compelling state interest.  "Unquestionably, the availability of laches impaired the ability of a parent to collect child support. Eliminating the defense necessarily advances the state’s interest in securing payment of all child support obligations. Moreover, to the extent obligor parents benefit from their efforts to evade support obligations through the use of the defense, section 4502(c) cures this “ rank injustice of the former law.”

In re the Marriage of Fellows, 2006 Cal. LEXIS 8764 (July 20, 2006)
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