A California woman won a $150,000 settlement for back child support from her ex-husband, nearly 50 years after he skipped out on the family, she and her lawyer said Wednesday.
Toni Anderson, 73, a retired interior designer from Carlsbad in northern San Diego County, said she raised her daughter, who is now 52, by herself since she was a toddler after her husband, Donald Alan Lenhart, left them.
Anderson said Lenhart moved to Canada and didn't make any payments, despite a court order.
The woman said she worked two jobs as a single parent and took food stamps to make ends meet. Then years later, she said it dawned on her that Lenhart still owed all that back child support.
Anderson had a hunch Lenhart might be back in the United States. So she took her original 1970 court order for child support and showed up at the San Diego County Child Support Services office, where federal tax records placed Lenhart in Oregon, her lawyer said.
He was served with orders to show up in court — and he did.
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“I didn’t expect him to show up," Anderson told NBC News. “I was really shocked to see him.”
Lenhart was not required to attend the hearing last week and could have allowed his attorney to handle the whole matter, lawyers on both sides said.
"He must have looked like a ghost to her," Anderson's lawyer Sara Yunus said.
Anderson asked him why Lenhart showed up and his answer surprised her.
“'Because I have to come and ask for your forgiveness,'” Anderson recalled him saying. “We had tears in our eyes.”
The principal amount Lenhart owed was $35,000, which totaled to $160,000 with interest and penalties, according to lawyers on both sides. They settled for $150,000 and Lenhart has two years to pay it off.
“It was just a big-time closure for both of us,” Anderson said. “The forgiveness was big on both of our parts.”
Lenhart didn't pay child support all these years, believing he and his wife had made an out-of-court, handshake agreement back in 1970 that absolved him of making any payments, the man's attorney said Wednesday.
“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 in a statement released by his lawyer. "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 daughter, Lane Lenhart, also an interior designer, said she's been moved by the social media reaction from single parents to her mother's settlement since news of her family's case came to light.
“Since mom put this all out in the world, there have been comment after comment from people that are dealing with the same thing,” Lane Lenhart said. “The overall consensus is that there are a lot of people out there, women, that are dealing with this and they don’t know what to do."
Rima Abdelkader is a senior reporter for Social Newsgathering at NBC News in New York.
David K. Li
David K. Li is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.