Using Affirmative Defenses in Idaho Family Law Cases under IRFLP 209: Definitions and Examples

Affirmative defenses are legal arguments presented by the defendant in a case. They assert that, even if the plaintiff's claims are true, the defendant should not be held liable for various reasons. These defenses require the defendant to present evidence supporting their claims. 

In family law cases in Idaho, affirmative defenses can be used to counter claims related to divorce, child custody, support, and other family matters.

Defense by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

How and When are Affirmative Defenses Used?:

- Pleadings: Affirmative defenses must be included in the defendant's initial response to the plaintiff's complaint, typically in the form of an "Answer" in Idaho family court.

- Evidence: The defendant must provide evidence supporting the affirmative defense. This can include documents, witnesses, or other relevant information.

- Argument in Court: During hearings or trial, the defendant's attorney will present these defenses to the court, explaining why the plaintiff's claims should not hold.

- Decision: The judge will consider both the plaintiff's claims and the defendant's affirmative defenses before making a decision.

Why are Affirmative Defenses Important in Idaho Family Law?:

- Protecting Rights: Affirmative defenses allow defendants to protect their rights and interests, ensuring they are not unfairly held liable for claims made by the plaintiff.

- Avoiding Liability: They can help defendants avoid unfavorable outcomes, such as paying excessive amounts of support or relinquishing property unjustly.

- Settling Disputes: Often, the presentation of strong affirmative defenses can lead to settlement negotiations, as it shows the defendant is prepared to vigorously defend their position.

Specific Affirmative Defenses listed under IRFLP 209 and Examples: 

(A) Accord and Satisfaction:

- Definition: Accord and satisfaction is a contract law concept where one party agrees to accept something different from what was originally owed, and the other party agrees to provide this alternative in satisfaction of the original obligation.

- Example: In a divorce settlement, if one spouse agrees to take a lower amount of spousal maintenance (aka alimony or spousal support) in exchange for keeping the family car, this is accord and satisfaction.

(B) Arbitration and Award:

- Definition: This defense involves parties agreeing to resolve their disputes through arbitration rather than going through traditional court proceedings. The arbitrator's decision (the "award") is binding.

- Example: Arbitration is different from mediation and is quite rare in family law cases. Idaho Courts typically order parties to attend nonbinding mediation with a requirement that the parties make a good faith effort to resolve the dispute. If, for some reason, the parties attended binding arbitration to resolve the custody dispute and the one of the parties challenged the outcome in court, an affirmative defense could be raised claiming the arbitration results are binding on both parties. 

(C) Assumption of Risk:

- Definition: Assumption of risk occurs when a plaintiff knowingly and willingly exposes themselves to a dangerous situation and is injured as a result. The defendant argues the plaintiff understood and accepted the risks involved.

- Example: If a parent allows their child to engage in a risky activity (like extreme sports) despite knowing the dangers, they may not be liable if the child is injured.

(D) Contributory or Comparative Responsibility:

- Definition: This defense applies in family law negligence cases where the plaintiff's own actions contributed to their injury. It can either bar recovery entirely (contributory) or reduce the damages (comparative).

- Example: In a child support dispute, if one parent can show that the other parent's failure to seek employment contributed to their financial struggles, it could reduce or increase the amount of support owed.

(E) Duress:

- Definition: Duress is when someone is forced or coerced to do something against their will due to the threat of harm or other pressure.

- Example: If a spouse signs a prenuptial agreement under the threat of physical harm, they may later claim duress to invalidate the agreement.

(F) Estoppel:

- Definition: Estoppel prevents a party from asserting a claim or right that contradicts what they have previously stated or agreed to.

- Example: If a parent consistently allows the children to stay with the other parent beyond the agreed-upon custody schedule, they may be estopped from later claiming the schedule was violated.

(G) Failure of Consideration:

- Definition: Failure of consideration means that one party did not receive what they were promised in exchange for something they gave.

- Example: During divorce proceedings, one spouse transfers ownership of a valuable asset, such as a vehicle, to the other spouse in exchange for a fair share of another asset. If the receiving spouse fails to provide the agreed-upon asset or its equivalent value, the transferring spouse can claim failure of consideration.

(H) Fraud:

- Definition: Fraud involves intentionally misleading someone to their detriment, leading them to act against their best interests.

- Example: If a spouse hides assets during divorce proceedings, they can be accused of fraud if the deception is discovered.

(I) Illegality:

- Definition: Illegality as a defense asserts that the subject matter of the contract or action is illegal, making the contract void.

- Example: If a couple agrees to falsify information on a government form related to their marriage, and later one spouse tries to use that form as evidence in a divorce case, the other spouse can claim illegality as a defense.

(J) Injury by Fellow Servant:

- Definition: This was historically used in the context of workers' compensation laws. It means that if an employee is injured due to the negligence of a fellow employee, the employer is not liable.

- Example: If a child is injured while in the care of a babysitter, but the injury occurred due to the negligence of the babysitter's teenage child, the babysitter may use this defense.

(K) Laches:

- Definition: Laches is an unreasonable delay in pursuing a right or claim, leading to a disadvantage to the opposing party.

- Example: If a party waits several years to enforce a provision of a divorce Judgment under IRFLP 815, to the point where the party has delayed an unreasonable amount of time to enforce the provision, the non-enforcing party could claim laches. 

(L) License:

- Definition: A license defense asserts that the defendant had permission or a license to engage in the allegedly wrongful activity.

- Example: If one parent allows the other to take the children for an additional overnight after his or her weekend, and this happens consistently for a period of time, the parent with the additional overnight could claim the other side gave him or her license to have that extra time.

(M) Payment:

- Definition: This defense asserts that the defendant has already paid what was owed, extinguishing the obligation.

- Example: In a divorce case, if one spouse can provide receipts and bank records showing they paid for certain shared expenses, they can use payment as a defense against the other spouse's claims of non-payment.

(N) Release:

- Definition: A release is a legally binding agreement in which one party agrees to relinquish a legal claim against another party.

- Example: If two ex-spouses sign a divorce settlement agreement where they release each other from any future claims to property or support, they cannot later sue each other for those things.

(O) Res Judicata:

- Definition: Res judicata means "a matter judged" and refers to a legal doctrine that once a matter has been finally judged by a court, it cannot be re-litigated.

- Example: If a child custody arrangement has been settled by a court, one parent cannot bring another lawsuit based on the same custody dispute and facts. This is on reason why courts require a “material, substantial, and permanent” change in circumstance to modify a custody schedule already ordered by the court.

(P) Statute of Frauds:

- Definition: The statute of frauds requires certain types of contracts to be in writing to be enforceable.

- Example: If a couple orally agrees to a postnuptial agreement dividing their property, but it was never put into writing, one spouse can use the statute of frauds as a defense if the other later tries to enforce it.

(Q) Statute of Limitations:

- Definition: Statute of limitations sets the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings can be initiated.

- Example: If a spouse tries to sue for unpaid child support from years ago, the other spouse can use the statute of limitations as a defense to have the case dismissed if the child support order is too older under Idaho’s statute of limitations rules. 

(R) Waiver:

- Definition: Waiver is when a party intentionally gives up a right or claim.

- Example: If a parent consistently allows the children to stay with the other parent beyond the agreed-upon custody schedule without objection, they may be considered to have waived their right to enforce the schedule strictly.

(S) Discharge in Bankruptcy:

- Definition: This defense asserts that the defendant's debt has been legally discharged through a bankruptcy proceeding.

- Example: During divorce proceedings, debts are divided between spouses. If one spouse is assigned a particular debt but later files for bankruptcy and discharges that debt, the other spouse cannot pursue them for that portion of the debt as it has been discharged in bankruptcy.


In Idaho family law cases, understanding and appropriately using affirmative defenses can significantly impact the outcome of a case, ensuring that justice is served and rights are protected for all parties involved. You should review IRFLP 209 and ensure that you include any claimed affirmative defenses in your responsive pleadings. Otherwise, you could waive your right to claim the affirmative defense.