A 74-year-old woman in Carlsbad, California, was reportedly awarded $150,000 in a child support settlement Wednesday -- 50 years after her ex-husband left the country and left her to raise their young daughter on her own.
Toni Anderson split from her husband, Don Lenhert, in 1968 after just two years of marriage. During their divorce proceedings, a judge ordered Lenhert to pay child support for the care of the couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Lane. Instead, he skipped town.
“The first check bounced, and then he went off to Canada with his girlfriend and had two more kids. He completely disappeared,” Anderson told FOX5 San Diego.
Starting Jan. 1, 1971, Lenhert was supposed to pay $210 a month for the first two and half years and then $160 until Lane’s 18th birthday, reported CNN.
Lenhert would have owed $35,000 total in child support if he had paid as ordered, but, with more than four decades worth of interest and penalties, he now owes Anderson roughly $160,000, lawyers on both sides told NBC News. In a settlement Wednesday, Lenhert agreed to pay Anderson $150,000 over the next two years.
"I realized in the middle of the night one night last year, 'Hey, there's no statute of limitations on child support,'" Anderson told 10 News, adding she “put it on the back burner and just kind of forgot about it over the years” while working as an interior designer to make ends meet as a single parent.
"I'm not negating the fact I was able to send my daughter to college, Paris. We traveled and had a good time. But the money runs out," Anderson told 10 News.
When she got word her ex-husband might have moved back to the U.S. last year, the 74-year-old took her 1970 court order for child support to the San Diego County Child Support Services office, where federal tax records confirmed Lenhert was residing in Oregon, Anderson’s lawyer told NBC News.
A now 53-year-old Lane Lenhert, who runs the same Los Angeles-based interior design firm her mother retired from, said there are lasting effects of her father skipping out on child support.
"Not having a mother around because she was so busy working, you can't put a price on a lost childhood. There's no amount of money that can replace it,” Lane said.
Anderson’s ex-husband appeared in court last week instead of letting lawyers handle the matter. According to Anderson, Lenhert came to ask for her forgiveness.
“It was just a big-time closure for both of us,” Anderson told NBC News. “The forgiveness was big on both of our parts.”
“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.”
Anderson said she hopes this case inspires parents going through similar situations to go after the money that is owed to them.
"I don't think enough women get this. And I think they're afraid," Anderson told 10 News.