Let’s Make a Deal

Deal Making

Do you remember the popular game show, “Let’s Make a Deal?” I thought of that show when I recently read an Illinois Appellate Court case decided March 25, 2004, in which parents who were divorced twenty-one years earlier in 1983 disagreed on whether or not a deal had been made between them when mother told the father that he no longer needed to pay child support if he continued to provide other miscellaneous items for the parties’ minor children. The facts of this recent Illinois case are as follows: The father, who I shall call Gullible Gary, was divorced from his former wife, who I shall call Intelligent Iris in 1983. Pursuant to the divorce decree, Iris had been granted custody of the parties’ three minor children, and Gary was to pay child support each month. Gary and Iris maintained a cordial relationship for several years after the divorce with Gary visiting the children often; Gary also purchased many additional items for his daughters, such as clothing, bicycles, telephones, pagers, and other miscellaneous items. According to Gary, fourteen years after his divorce in 1997, he had a conversation with Intelligent Iris who told Gullible Gary that he no longer needed to pay child support so long as he continued purchasing miscellaneous items for the children when they were needed. This “arrangement” between Gullible Gary and Intelligent Iris lasted until 2001 when Gary informed Iris that he was in the process of attempting to have his former marriage to Iris annulled so that he and his new wife could be married in a Catholic ceremony. Apparently, Iris became incensed by Gary’s request and decided she no longer wanted to abide by her “arrangement” with Gullible Gary.

When Iris contacted her divorce attorney, she was delighted to learn that agreements or “arrangements” made between divorced couples involving children’s issues were not enforceable without the approval of the court. Iris learned that divorced parents are prohibited from making agreements to modify the non-custodial parent’s child support obligation without court approval. Iris learned (and unfortunately Gary did too) that the courts in Illinois will always do what is believed to be in the best interests of the minor children. Illinois courts have held on numerous occasions that parents may not bargain away their children’s interests. Parents may not agree to modify or change in any manner a child support obligation without one parent petitioning the court to request a modification. Such a modification will only be granted when a court is satisfied that the agreement reached between the parents is in accord with the best interests of the minor children.

Intelligent Iris subsequently filed her petition for past-due child support in 2001 alleging that Gullible Gary had not paid over $60,000.00 in court-ordered child support during the last eighteen years (from 1983 until 2001). Gary thought he had two valid defenses. After all, Gary and Iris had made an “arrangement” whereby as long as Gary purchased incidental items for the minor children (clothing, bicycles, telephones, pagers, and other miscellaneous items) that he would no longer have to pay child support to Iris. Gary’s defense was twofold: (1) because he and Iris had reached this “arrangement,” Iris was now “equitably estopped” from asserting a claim for past-due child support; and (2) because Iris waited eighteen years before making her claim for past-due child support, this was an unreasonable delay (known in legal terms as “Laches”) and therefore, since Iris had “slept on her rights” to collect past due child support, she was now prohibited from doing so. The Illinois trial court and Appellate Court rejected both of Gary’s defenses for the reasons recited above. Both courts held that they doubted Gary and Iris entered into an agreement, but even if such an agreement had been entered into, the agreement was unenforceable because it had not been presented to a Divorce court for review and approval. Gary’s defense that Iris waited an unreasonable amount of time before bringing her claim to court fell on deaf ears because child support orders are considered money judgments, and money judgments have a twenty-year statute of limitations, which means parties can enforce money judgments up to twenty years after they have accrued.

In summary, never, ever play Let’s Make a Deal with your former spouse when it comes to the payment of child support. If a cordial relationship exists between divorced parents, and they agree to change the manner and method in which child support is paid, then be certain to file a petition in court and request approval of your agreement from the court.

Contact the Law Offices of Michael P. Doman, Ltd. for your divorce attorney needs.

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