When Michael Haraldson got the letter last year that he still needed to pay child support, he couldn't believe it.
Both of Haraldson's children are in their 20s. South Dakota's child support laws only require child support payments up to age 18 in most cases, and 19 in one other instance.
But Haraldson, born and raised in South Dakota, was living in Canada at the time of his divorce. There, child support laws can go on indefinitely, unless he hires a lawyer and fights.
"I was told it was going to be $20,000 to $30,000 to litigate, and I'd have a 50-50 chance," Haraldson said by phone from Pierre. "I just went, 'Oh, my God.'"
Haraldson, a 52-year-old computer support specialist who lives in Pierre, has an administrative hearing with the state scheduled for Monday to protest the payments. But given the nature of state and federal laws, he may not have much luck.
Enforcing the law
Haraldson followed his ex-wife up to The Pas, a town in Manitoba, for eight years. It was a move for her career, but things didn't work out. Life brought Haraldson back to South Dakota for the past 19 years.
His 20-year-old daughter, Fern, still lives there with her mother Trudy, Haraldson's ex-wife.
Through the time, he says he's paid $300 a month in child support. His 22-year-old son Joseph, is attending graduate school in Ontario for a master's degree in math and computer science.
Haraldson says he made every child support payment on time, between 1997 and December 2012. But he didn’t realize that Canada’s child support laws do not end, and that he still owed money. That changed when a letter arrived in early October from the state Department of Social Services stating he owed at least $2,700.
He came up with the money in 10 days, but Haraldson said that by then his credit had been damaged by the enforcement action.
A representative of the Department of Social Services says the department is just following the law.
The department must uphold Canadian child support laws due to a federal law known as the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, as well as state law, said Kristin Kellar, spokeswoman for the DSS.
Those laws "require states and reciprocating countries to cooperate with each other in child support enforcement and establishment proceedings," Kellar wrote in an email.
The department "must enforce court orders as issued by other states or countries in accordance with the issuing state or reciprocating countries' laws including... court-ordered child support amounts," Kellar said.
It frustrates Haraldson, who as a state employee works on the department's computers.
"What's really difficult for me is, I have to fix the computers of the people who are doing this to me," Haraldson said. "I have to smile and say 'Hi, how are you today? Isn't this lovely?'"