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Arizona law requires every parent to financially support their children. If someone else supports a nonpaying parent’s child, the law implies a promise from the parent for reimbursement. Can someone who provided support for a child sue a parent who failed to support the child? Do laches bar suit brought after a decade? In the case, Anonymous Wife v. Anonymous Husband, 739 P.2d 794 (1987) the Arizona Supreme Court addressed these questions.
Facts of the Case
In 1971, during the marriage of Wife and Husband, the Wife became pregnant with another man’s child. It was born in 1972. The natural father did not offer to contribute to the child’s support. Wife and Husband raised the child as their own. However, this ended when Wife petitioned for the dissolution of the marriage in 1981.
The husband denied paternity of the child and the Wife filed a paternity complaint against both men. The husband filed a cross-claim against the natural father for one-half of the funds expended by the community to support the child.
The trial court ordered the natural father to contribute to the support of the child. However, it held that neither Husband nor Wife would recover support payments they made from the Husband.
The trial court reasoned that they had elected to treat the child as their own. Any claim against natural father, the court said, was time-barred. It rejected Husband’s claim for attorney fees. The court of appeals ruled that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to hear the Husband’s cross-claim against the natural father.
It also denied the husband’s request for attorney’s fees. The trial court later denied Husband’s motion for reconsideration. It granted the natural father’s request for attorney’s fees. The Arizona Supreme Court granted review.
Trial Court’s Jurisdiction to Adjudicate Husband’s Cross-Claim
The only powers a divorce court can exercise are those set out in the law. The court of appeals acknowledged this. It reviewed the law and concluded that the trial court didn’t have jurisdiction to hear the Husband’s cross-claim against the natural father. The cross-claim was for reimbursement of funds Husband spent to support the natural father’s child.
The Arizona Supreme Court disagreed with that conclusion. It said that if the natural father is adjudged the child’s father, the court can order support payments. And Arizona law does not limit to whom back support payments can be ordered.
The husband may be among the persons to whom payment may be ordered under the law. Any other ruling on this issue would encourage piecemeal litigation.
Does Husband’s Cross-Claim Have Merit?
Natural parents have a legal obligation to financially support their children. What if a natural parent doesn’t financially support a child and another person offers support? In that case, the law implies a promise by the parent to reimburse the person supporting the child. Here, the natural father made no effort to financially support his daughter.
The husband helped Wife to support the child; although he was under no legal obligation to do so. The natural father is legally obligated to reimburse Husband for the money he spent to provide the child with necessities. Thus, the Court found Husband’s cross-claim had merit unless it was time-barred.
Is Husband’s Cross-Claim Time-Barred?
Generally, “time-barred” refers to legal claims made after the time set in the statute for making such claims has passed. The husband’s cross-claim is not barred by any statute of limitations. The husband could not have made a claim for child support before the issue of paternity was resolved. Arizona law does not limit the period an individual has to bring a paternity action.
The paternity complaints were filed here while the child was a minor. So was the Husband’s cross-claim for reimbursement of child support. However, the cross-claim may be time-barred by laches. Laches bar claims not diligently pursued if the delay injured the other party. Here, laches will bar the Husband’s cross-claim if he failed to act diligently and the natural father was injured by the delay.
Husband knew before the child was born that the natural father was the child’s true father. Waiting so long before filing a claim suggests that the Husband didn’t pursue his claim diligently. The natural father claims that he was injured by the Husband’s failure to diligently pursue his claim.
He alleges that, because of the Husband’s delay, he did not set aside any money for the child’s support. He claims that making him suddenly pay 10 years of back support would put him in an unjust position.
The Court acknowledged that the Husband’s late claim for support will disrupt the natural father’s financial affairs. However, the Court found that equity here greatly favors the Husband, who helped the child. Therefore, the Court declined to hold that natural father can rely on the equitable defense of laches.
What Claims Can Husband Make?
The court found that the amount the Husband can recover from the natural father is limited. The husband can only recover the funds he spent on the child’s necessaries within three years before filing his cross-claim. The Court denied his request for attorney fees.
The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the trial court judgment in part. It also reversed the judgment in part. The trial court must determine the Husband’s share of community support amounts expended during three years before the cross-claim was filed.
If you have questions about non-parent suit for reimbursement of support in an Arizona divorce case, you should seriously consider contacting the attorneys at Hildebrand Law, PC. Our Arizona child support and family law attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience successfully representing clients in child support and family law cases.
Our family law firm has earned numerous awards such as US News and World Reports Best Arizona Family Law Firm, US News and World Report Best Divorce Attorneys, “Best of the Valley” by Arizona Foothills readers, and “Best Arizona Divorce Law Firms” by North Scottsdale Magazine.
Call us today at (480)305-8300 or reach out to us through our appointment scheduling form to schedule your personalized consultation and turn your Arizona child support or family law case around today.
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