CARLSBAD, Calif. — Better late than never.
A 74-year-old woman in Carlsbad is getting the $150,000 in child support payments first awarded to her nearly 50 years ago.
Toni Anderson married Don Lenhert in 1966, but the couple split two years later.
During the divorce proceeding in mid-1970, the judge ordered Lenhert to pay child support for their 3-year-old daughter Lane, consisting of monthly payments of $210 for the first 2½ years, and then dropping down to $160 per month until Lane turned 18. The order commenced January 1, 1971.
But Lenhert never paid.
Those monthly payments comprise a principal of about $30,000, Anderson said, and with a 10% interest rate, he owes her $150,000.
“The first check bounced and then he went off to Canada with his girlfriend and had two more kids. He completely disappeared,” Anderson said.
Five decades passed. Anderson said she lived “paycheck to paycheck” and traveled often in her work as an interior designer.
“I had to raise myself,” her daughter said. “In the long run it affects you, you have a lot of abandonment issues.”
The money will make a big difference for Anderson, who’s retired and receiving Social Security payments, but still works part-time.
But the gap in her daughter’s life still feels irreparable. “Not having a mother around because she was so busy working, you can’t put a price on a lost childhood. There’s no amount of money that can replace it,” Lane said.
There was no statute of limitations
Last year, Anderson realized there’s no statute of limitations for child support payments in California.
She Googled her ex-husband’s name and, she said, found photos of him living what appeared to be a financially sound life in Oregon, with a big house and a boat.
She filed a motion to ask for unpaid child support. Last month, she made her case in court. The judge granted her request.
Through his lawyer, Lenhart said he was pleased to reach an agreement, and said he’d hired a private investigator to find Anderson and deliver the payment of $30,000 plus interest after she filed her motion last year.
“I was glad to pay Ms. Anderson the child support that was owed and I wish her only the best in the future,” Lenhart said.
The $150,000 repayment begins with a large lump sum, and then continues in monthly payments. Their case is drawing publicity, so this time Anderson trusts his word.
She said Lenhart came to the court hearing to ask for forgiveness. “He was trying,” she said.
She wants other moms to also ask for the money they’re owed
Anderson is hoping her story will serve as an example to other women to “not be afraid to go after their ex-husband. We can’t be afraid.”
It’s not just women who are going without the child support payments they legally deserve. Anderson noted that a man who saw her story in a local news outlet approached her in a Lowe’s store recently to tell her his wife wasn’t paying him the $900 monthly she was supposed to pay him to help raise their three kids.
In an email, Anderson’s attorney, Sara Yunus, told CNN, “I hope Toni’s case encourages other single parents to go after their ex and hold them accountable, whether it’s been five years or 50 years.”
Anderson said her quest “is starting a ripple effect” and they’re “hoping to see waves.”