24 May My ex owes me money. Is there a statute of limitations to collect?
Q. My ex-spouse owes more than $110,000. What is the statute of limitations for a repayment plan in New Jersey?
That’s a lot of money.
If your ex-spouse has amassed child support or alimony arrears, whether in a sum of $1 or $110,000, you are most likely entitled to collect said sums, said Ken White, a certified matrimonial attorney with Shane and White in Edison.
Specifically, he said, support arrears do not evaporate and the collection of arrears are not barred by any statute of limitations.
“To be clear, there are different means by which an outstanding support obligation may have been memorialized and how it has been — or has not been — memorialized may make a difference regarding your ability to collect the money due to you,” he said.
For example, most often, when a formal child support or alimony obligation is established by the court, it’s noted in an order and deemed to be payable via the appropriate probation department, whether by wage garnishment or direct pay, White said.
“If such an order exists then there will be a formal accounting of the support arrears that have accumulated, and the same will be memorialized in the records of the probation department,” he said. “With such records, you have the ability to independently file a motion to enforce and seek collection of the money due you.”
Further, he said, you may be able to contact the probation department and encourage it to start enforcement proceedings on your behalf, saving you the time, effort and perhaps costs of proceeding on your own or with an attorney of your choosing.
In the event that your ex’s support obligation had not been directed to be paid via the probation department and therefore there is no formal accounting in existence, your ability to collect is a bit more complex, he said.
“You would have to file a motion with the court to enforce litigant’s right; asking the court to make a finding regarding what is owed to you; and asking the court to direct your ex to make a payment whether in full or payments over time,” he said. “The specific facts and circumstances of both your ex’s and your situation will impact the decisions made by the judge.”
While there is no formal statute of limitations in the family court that would bar you from seeking to collect support arrears that were not otherwise previously memorialized, you should be aware that in the family court there is a “Doctrine of Laches,” which is similar to a statute of limitations.
White said it can be used to prohibit or bar the untimely enforcement of a claim, but unlike a statute of limitations there is no set, absolute time restriction.
“The family court is a court of equity and therefore guided by principles of fairness and reasonableness,” White said.
“Accordingly, if someone sits on his/her hands too long without seeking enforcement of his/her rights a judge in the family court can prohibit enforcement,” he said. “Just how long is too long will depend on the specific facts and circumstances of the case as well as the particular judge who is asked to make the determination as such a decision would be in the personal discretion of that independent judge.”
You should speak with an attorney who can assess the specifics of your situation to advise you further.
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This story was originally published on May 24, 2023.
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