A judgment or judgment lien for accrued child support in Washington remains in force for 10 years after the youngest child named in the order turns 18, pursuant to RCW 4.56.210. The statute therefore generally makes a child support judgment unenforceable after the youngest child turns 28. Washington courts have referred to this statute as a “nonclaim statute.”
RCW 74.20A.220 allows a parent to extend or waive “any statute which may bar or impair the collection of the debt….” A father recently challenged the applicability of his waiver to RCW 4.56.210 on the ground that it is a nonclaim statute rather than a statute of limitations.
The father was ordered to pay monthly child support when his marriage was dissolved. He made the first child support payment nine years after the order was entered. He subsequently signed a waiver eliminating the time limit for collecting the approximately $50,000 he owed in unpaid child support. The “Waiver of the Statute of Limitations Defense” stated it applied to “[a]ny statute of limitations defense created by RCW 4.16.020, RCW 4.56.210, or RCW 6.17.020” and any other statute “that limits the time DCS can collect [the defendant’s] support debt.” The waiver further stated it allowed DCS to collect until the defendant had paid the support debt in full.
After his obligation to pay current support for the children listed in the order ended, the defendant still owed more than $48,000 in back child support. In 2006, a contempt action was initiated against him. The contempt action was still active in February 2016, and he still owed nearly $47,000. A regular hearing was scheduled, and the defendant argued in his response that the obligation for back child support had expired pursuant to RCW 4.56.210(2) when the youngest child in the order turned 28 in 2015. He argued that the waiver applied only to a statute of limitations and that this statute was instead a nonclaim statute. The state argued that a parent can waive any statute that may bar or impair collection pursuant to RCW 74.20A.220 and that the defendant had waived the time limit in the statute by signing the waiver.
The trial court found the defendant had “reaped the benefit of the waiver and relied upon it…” The court found the waiver was valid and ordered the defendant to pay $100 per month for back child support. The defendant’s motion for reconsideration was denied, and he appealed.
The defendant argued that the court erred in finding he had waived the time limit on enforcement in RCW 4.56.210(2). RCW 74.20A.220 provides that a parent who owes support may waive “any statute which may bar or impair the collection of the debt and the extension or waiver shall be effective according to its terms.” The appeals court found that the two statutes in question “can easily be read in harmony” to accomplish the legislative intent. One sets forth a general rule that bars enforceability of the child support order after the youngest child turns 28, and the other provides an exception to that rule.
The appeals court also considered the legislative history of RCW 74.20A.220. The previous version of the statute included RCW 4.56.210 as an example of a statute with a time bar that could be waived. This provision was intended to allow a parent to have a lower regular payment on back child support by allowing a longer period for collection. The appeals court found that the waiver statute could not achieve its intended purpose to allow a lower payment without jeopardizing the collection unless it was interpreted to allow parents to waive the limitation in RCW 4.56.210(2). The appeals court therefore found that the waiver statute allows parents to waive the time bar on enforcing child support in RCW 4.56.210(2).
The court further found that the defendant waived the time limit. He signed a waiver that stated that it was permitted under RCW 74.20A.220. It further stated that it applied to “[a]ny statute of limitations defense created by RCW 4.56.210.”
The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the waiver statute did not apply to a nonclaim statute. It focused on the defendant’s “objective manifestation of intent in executing the waiver.” It cited the general rule of construction that words are given their ordinary meaning unless the entirety of the agreement clearly shows a different intent.
The waiver explained the meaning of the statute of limitations as a limit on “the length of time a person can collect a judgment.” The language of the waiver specified it applied to the statute in question, as well as any other Washington statute that limited the time in which the debt could be enforced. Additionally, the order stated that DCS could collect until the debt was fully repaid. The court found that the waiver, as a whole, showed the defendant’s intent to waive any defenses related to the amount of time the debt could be collected. The appeals court affirmed.
Parents who owe back child support should be aware of the enforcement limitations and should carefully consider the consequences of signing a waiver. The Seattle child support attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC are knowledgeable and experienced in handling child support orders. If you are facing a divorce or child support case, call Blair & Kim, PLLC at (206) 622-6562 to discuss your case.
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