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Child support enforcement complicated by father's disappearance

In the legal world, there is one thing that is absolutely clear. That is the fact that cases and the law itself cannot always be seen in black and white. There are certainly shades of grey, which is why one hires an attorney with specific experience to help guide them through what can be confusing.

Take the situation of one woman who lives in Ohio. The woman had divorced from her husband years ago, but not before they had two daughters together. When they finalized their divorce, the father was ordered to pay child support. At some point, he stopped paying. Enforcing the order was complicated by the fact that the man had simply vanished.

The mother relied on the support benefits, but without knowing her ex-husband’s whereabouts, she could not garnish his wages, lottery winnings or any other options. Social Security benefits were another option, but this required a declaration of the husband’s death from the court. When the request was made, the court declared the husband legally dead.

A few years later, the man unexpectedly showed up again. He claimed that he had simply wandered down to Georgia and Florida following job possibilities. When at some point he tried to get a driver’s license, he realized that he no longer had an active Social Security number.

When the husband requested that the declaration be reversed in order to reactivate his Social Security number, the mother became concerned that she would be forced to repay the Social Security Administration.

The Ohio judge ruled that there was a three-year window in which the declaration of death could be reversed. More than three years had passed. “I don’t know where that leaves you,” said the judge to the very alive husband, “but you’re still deceased as far as the law is concerned.” It is unclear how the SSA will rule on the issue.

While this situation may seem extremely rare, unusual circumstances arise in many cases. Again, hiring an attorney with broad experience in these cases provides the protection necessary when rare or complicated issues come up.

Source: The New York Times, “Declared Legally Dead, as He Sat Before the Judge,” John Schwartz, Oct. 11, 2013

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