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Family & Divorce Law

What Is Laches & The Statute Of Limitations?

By Tolison & Williams / April 24, 2018

Laches & Family LawHere in Colorado there have been a handful of recent cases in which the "laches" defense has been invoked. While this defense is rarely used and upheld, it is a tactic that could be used in certain situations within family law cases. 

Laches doesn’t prevent litigation. Instead, it is used as a defense. Understanding this term is important if you plan to pursue child support payments or spousal maintenance

What is Laches?

Laches is a legal defense that allows the defendant to claim that the plaintiff's extended delay in pursuing legal action has created an undue and unjust hardship for said defendant. Though infrequently used, this is something of relevance in Denver family law.

Let's look at a recent spousal support case as an example. In this case, the appellant had failed to pay ordered spousal support between 1989 and 2015. The appellee then sued the appellant for back payments nearing $600,000 total. The appellant attempted to use the laches defense. This effort was initially shot down by the courts, but the Colorado court of appeals later reversed the ruling and upheld the laches defense during this case.

What is a Statute of Limitations?

While laches might be easily confused with a statute of limitation, the two terms are actually quite different. A statute of limitation is a law that limits the amount of time in which a legal action must be taken. It can impact many criminal matters, negligence cases, breach of contract suits, and more. 

The purpose of a statute of limitation is to protect a defendant. For example, if a person is charged of criminal negligence years after the fact, they may no longer have access to documents or witnesses that can help them prove their innocence. 

Laches in Child Support Cases

Laches also came up in another case in 2016. In this example, a mother filed suit against her ex-husband in an attempt to gain interest on child support payments, but the father was able to successfully assert laches as a defense.

Above all else, the case mentioned above demonstrates how important it is to consult a divorce attorney and pursue legal action in a timely manner, whether you are plaintiff or defendant in a child custody case. 

You might be a custodial parent seeking unpaid child support payments from your ex-spouse, or you might believe you are being unfairly pursued for missed child support payments. Whichever situation you might find yourself in, consult a child custody attorney as early as you can. Your lawyer will be able to tell you if you or the other parent will be able to use a laches defense and help you build up your case accordingly. 

Take Preventative Measures

Pursuing legal action or defending yourself in a family law case can be costly. It can take hours of your time. There is no doubt that these matters can take an emotional toll. 

The appellant in the case listed above may have assumed that no news was good news, and that he had nothing to worry about when he stopped making court ordered maintenance payments. Likewise, his ex-spouse may have assumed she had all the time she needed to pursue legal action. Being proactive may have been painful initially, but it could have saved both parties a lot of trouble.

No matter what your situation is, your best step forward is to obtain the advice of a competent attorney. If you're involved in a case in which laches is a viable defense, contact us today for a consultation.

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Tags: Family Law Child Custody

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