Bamboozled Father is Excused from Paying Child Support
A non-precedential decision of the Superior Court recently addressed the defenses available to a father who failed to pay child support for fifteen years, after the mother told him that her new husband intended to adopt. Lloyd v. Ader, No. 934 MDA 2012 (March 15, 2013). The child in this case was two years old when his parents divorced in California. Mother and child moved to Virginia, where she was remarried, while Father concluded his military service, ultimately settling in York, Pennsylvania. Mother and Father entered into a child support order in California. When Father became delinquent in paying his child support after several months, Mother told him that her new husband wished to adopt, and he signed a handwritten paper to relinquish his parental rights and extinguish his child support obligation (which was lost and could not be produced at the time of a hearing nearly twenty years later). Thereafter Father never contacted Mother or the child, and did not pay child support.
Fifteen years later, Mother initiated child support enforcement through the Virginia courts, which did not apparently come to fruition. Mother attempted to register the California support order in York County Pennsylvania under the Interstate Family Support Act (“UIFSA”), to which Father objected. The trial court conducted a hearing and refused to register the order, concluding that Father established the defense of “concealment.” Mother appealed.
The Superior Court agreed that Mother had not “concealed” the child from Father, who made no effort to contact the child after signing the handwritten paper. Yet, the Superior Court held that Mother was estopped from enforcing the California support order, as Father had reasonably relied upon her false representation that her husband intended to adopt. In recognizing estoppel as a defense to child support, the Court cited two ancient, pre-Code decisions: Com. ex rel. Crane v. Rosenberger, 239 A.2d 810 Pa.Super. 1968); and Com. ex rel. Chila v. Chila, 313 A.2d 339 (Pa.Super. 1973), reviving what some might have thought moribund defenses in the day of child support guidelines.
Importantly, Crane and Chila were not cited as defenses to child support itself, but to a plaintiff’s right to register a foreign child support order under UIFSA. Moreover, the trial court’s decision hinged upon the credibility of the father, which appellate court refused to reconsider.