"She has truly become a superhero for single parents," her attorney says
Credit: Toni Anderson

A 74-year-old woman from California has been awarded thousands of dollars in back child support from her former spouse, nearly a half-century after the two divorced.

Toni Anderson told Good Morning America that she was left to raise her 3-year-old daughter alone after she and her then-husband, Donald Lenhart, went through a divorce in the 1970s. While she expected financial assistance from her ex to help care for their daughter, when Anderson tried to cash a $160 check he sent her as his first payment, it didn’t clear.

“I was so excited, I will never forget,” Anderson, of San Diego, told GMA. “I deposited [it] in my account and it bounced.”

After sending the bogus check, her ex missed the following child support payment, then the next. Months of missed payments turned into years, then decades.

“I kind of put it on the back burner and just kind of forgot about it over the years,” Anderson told KGTV. “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.”

In the 49 years since their divorce, Anderson said her ex didn’t pay any child support, which included $210 per month for a duration of 30 months, followed by payments of $160 per month until their daughter reached the age of 21.

“I struggled a lot,” Anderson told GMA of raising her daughter, who is now 52. “I lived from paycheck to paycheck and I had to take a couple jobs, and it was a detriment to my daughter because I really wasn’t there for her.”

But last year, Anderson said she woke up in the middle of the night with a life-changing realization — there is no statute of limitations on child support in California.

Toni Anderson and her daughter, Lane Lenhart

Soon after, Anderson informed her ex, who had moved to Oregon, that she was going to pursue legal action to finally receive the missed payments she felt she was owed. The amount would total a whopping $170,000.

Lenhart and Anderson would settle on a $153,090 payment, which included legal fees and 10 percent interest on the missed payments that came out to roughly $35,000 alone.

“I was glad to pay Ms. Anderson the child support that was owed and I wish her only the best in the future,” Lenhart told PEOPLE through his attorney, Jaime Cage. “We had an informal agreement that I was operating off of after our divorce, but when Ms. Anderson filed her motion in 2018 to collect the $35,000 in principal plus interest, I hired a private investigator to locate her so I could offer her payment. I am pleased we were able to reach an agreement.”

The settlement could prove a useful example for other parents who raised children by themselves, Anderson’s attorney, Sara Yunus, tells PEOPLE.

“One of Ms. Anderson’s goals in pursuing this matter was to pave a path for other single parents out there who believe they have no recourse when it comes to facing an ex who has evaded their financial responsibilities under the law,” she says. “Friends of Ms. Anderson have shared with her that they are considering taking similar action, and many other single parents have reached out to our office after learning of Ms. Anderson’s success. She has truly become a superhero for single parents.”

Now, Anderson will be able to retire and enjoy her golden years.

“This settlement is a life-changer for Ms. Anderson,” Yunus added. “At the age of nearly 74, we hope she can finally retire and have peace of mind in knowing this chapter in her life is finally closed, with a happy ending.”