By Teri Figueroa The San Diego Union-Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Toni Anderson says her ex-husband made an initial child support payment of $210 in 1970 but the check bounced. She says he then left the country so she gave up on getting the money back until now.
It was a long time coming, this child support payment.
But nearly 50 years after a judge awarded Toni Anderson child support, the now 73-year-old Carlsbad woman took her ex-husband back to court, and won her bid to force him to pay up. The settlement tally, including interest: $150,000.
Married in 1966, Toni Anderson and her husband Don Lenhart split up a few years later. She was left to raise their young daughter.
In 1970, a Los Angeles judge awarded child support, money to be paid until daughter Lane Lenhart was 21. The order was $210 a month to start, then dropping to $160 a month.
Anderson said her ex-husband made an initial payment but the check bounced. Then he left the country, she said. She gave up on the money.
A single mother, Anderson went to work as an interior decorator, eventually running her own company. She said it was a "struggle beyond struggle for years and years," and she worked "24/7." Money was tight. So was the time she had to spend with her little girl.
But she made it work.
Fast forward to a few years ago. Anderson handed her business over to her daughter, also an interior decorator, and moved south to Carlsbad in 2015.
Last year, she had an epiphany: She was still owed child support, and knew California had no statute of limitations barring her from chasing the payment.
She Googled her ex, she said, and found that he was living in Oregon. She also dug up that old court order.
Anderson steeled herself and headed to the Vista courthouse, ready to be laughed at. But staffers at the Department of Child Support Services welcomed her, she said.
"They said we will do everything we can to get you this money," Anderson said.
Earlier this year, after starting the process, she found and hired San Diego family law attorney Sara Yunus. At first, the attorney questioned the case, until Anderson showed her the certified award dating back to 1970. All was in order.
"I looked at it and I told her, 'You are entitled to every single penny of this,'" Yunus said.
With interest and attorney's fees, a child-support bill that would have amounted to roughly $35,000 decades ago ballooned more than four times over, Yunus said.
A Vista Superior Court commissioner agreed last week to adopt the parties' settlement agreement as an order of the court. Yunus said the case settled for $150,000, to be paid in part with a large initial sum and the rest paid over the next year and a half.
Through his attorney, Don Lenhart issued a statement that he "was glad to pay Ms. Anderson the child support that was owed and I wish her only the best in the future."
"We had an informal agreement that I was operating off of after our divorce, but when Ms. Anderson filed her motion in 2018 to collect the $35,000 in principal plus interest, I hired a private investigator to locate her so I could offer her payment. I am pleased we were able to reach an agreement."
The motion was filed through the Department of Child Support Services, and did not include her address.
Anderson's story has made headlines across the country, even landing her an interview on Good Morning America earlier this week.
She's good with all that attention, and for a reason. Anderson wants to raise awareness that single parents, at least in California, can chase even the most overdue child support payments.
"I really starting realizing what a need there is for this information to get out," Anderson said.
Going to the courthouse to start the process, she said, is "an emotional thing you have to do. And it's a scary thing."
She got the process started on her own. A few weeks before the hearing, she hired Yunus.
Daughter Lane Lenhart, who is now 52, said the attention to the case was "completely shocking."
"Obviously the story is resonating with lot of people," she said. "Good for her for pioneering this."
These days, Anderson receives Social Security payments, works part-time at a Carlsbad store and drives a 17-year-old car. But she said she has no plans to spend the long overdue child support money just yet. She's socking it away for the future.