The Court of Appeals in Massey v. Massey, decided on June 20, 2019, highlighted statute of limitation on child support payments.
Massey who owed over several thousand dollars of arrears in child support had petitioned the court for his support payment to be erased relying on the “Debt Statute of Limitations”.
The Court of Appeal affirming the lower court decision ruled that essentially the debt of child support in arrears would be erased after the twelve year statutory period from the last payments due.
Specifically, support payments constitute judgment debts as each installment becomes due and payable. As such, the debt is only enforceable for twelve years from the date “when an execution might first be issued thereon, or from the date of the last order of revival thereof.” D.C. Code § 15-101(a).
Moreover, after the expiration of the twelve years statutory period: “the judgment . . . shall cease to have any operation or effect” and is no longer enforceable “except in the case of a proceeding that may be then pending for the enforcement of the judgment.”
That mean amounts in child support arrears would erase after 12 years from date the obligation to pay support ends.
Pope, the wife, entitled to child support arrear payments made several legal arguments on appeal to compel the reversal of the debt being erased — all were however unsuccessful. The main arguments made on appeal and in opposition of allowing the Statutory claim to stand were:
Waiver & Preclusion
Pope argued that Massey had waived the Statute of limitation argument as in his earlier motion for modification he had not asserted such claim and thus he was now barred from asserting time limit on child support arrears.
The Court held that generally the defense of statute of limitations must not be narrowly construed and the precedent in both this court and the federal courts is to be flexible in the application of the waiver doctrine.
Particularly when there is no substantial prejudice would result from permitting the defendant to raise an affirmative defense at a later stage in the litigation as here.
That legal claim raised earlier in the litigation as Massey had filed earlier motions for modification. The Court held that the preclusion doctrine prevents re-litigation of claims only in subsequent or ancillary proceedings but “it is clear that res judicata does not apply if a party moves the rendering court in the same proceeding to correct or modify its judgment.”
Nullum tempus occurrit regi
Which translated to “no time runs against the sovereign”.
Ms. Pope Massey argued that Mr. Massey cannot assert the statute of limitations under the doctrine of nullum tempus occurrit regi (“no time runs against the sovereign”), which provides the sovereign with “a common-law immunity from the operation of statutes of limitations and repose.” Here however the court held that the government as not played any part in the motions hearings was not a party nor a “sovereign” within the meaning of this legal doctrine.
Pope also argued that modification motions technically renewed the Statutory time and tolled the twelve-year period.
The Court held however that in the absence of authority suggesting a statute-of-limitations period for child support payments may be “renewed,” as opposed to explicitly revived or tolled, we are not persuaded that the statute of limitations may be restarted or extended in this manner.
The DC Child Support Statute allows for modification of child support payments by showing of substantial and material change of circumstances. Income disparities of %15 percent or more provide a prima facie case of modification.
Refer to our DC Child Support Lawyer page for more detailed content on this subject.