Can Spousal Support Enforcement Delay Constituted Laches ?
In In re Marriage of Plescia (1997), 59 Cal. App. 4th 252, the appellate court upheld the trial court's ruling that a nine-year delay in seeking to enforce two years of past due spousal support, plus prejudice to the debtor-spouse (who had retired), constituted laches.
The appellate court also held that the elimination of a period of limitations for enforcing a spousal support order did not eliminate the applicability of a laches defense.
Next, the court stated that a traditional common law defense cannot be supplanted without specific legislative directive. (Id. at p. 261.)
Finally, the Plescia court decided that the Legislature's evident elimination of diligence (as to judgments for support) did not necessarily also eliminate laches, since there are different elements involved in laches, i.e., unreasonable delay coupled with prejudice to the party asserting the defense. (Id. at p. 262.)
California cases offer differing viewpoints on the appropriate standard of review for the allowance or disallowance of laches as an affirmative defense.
Some of the authorities hold that the trial court's decision is reviewed for abuse of discretion, and that such decision will not be disturbed absent a clear showing of abuse. (Lohman v. Lohman, supra, 29 Cal. 2d at p. 149; Di Corpo v. Di Corpo, supra, 33 Cal. 2d at p. 200; Levene v. Levene, supra, 109 Cal. App. 2d at p. 157; Rupp v. Rupp, supra, 129 Cal. App. 2d at pp. 24-25.)
Other cases have employed the substantial evidence test. ( Marshall v. Marshall (1965) 232 Cal. App. 2d 232, 252 [42 Cal. Rptr. 686]; Teixeira v. Verissimo (1966) 239 Cal. App. 2d 147, 158 [48 Cal. Rptr. 496].)
At least one case has used a mixed standard, stating that a ruling made within the trial court's discretion will stand unless there is a "manifest injustice, or unless the conclusion reached in the court below does not find substantial support in the evidence." (Rouse v. Underwood (1966) 242 Cal. App. 2d 316, 323 [51 Cal. Rptr. 437].)