Equitable Estoppel Explained

Equity estoppel is a legal principle which brings about consistency to court system. It prevents someone from being able to change their position during court proceedings if that change in position harms another party. Equity estoppel doesn't forbid all changes to a different position, but it does require someone to be honest throughout a series of court events. Estoppel just means that something is not allowed. In this instance, a change in “equity,” or position, is blocked from happening.

What Is an Example of Equitable Estoppel?

Let's say that there are two people who are going through a divorce and that there's a child involved. The father of the child claims that he isn't the father, but the mother has DNA evidence to prove that he is. After the divorce is finalized, the mother goes to the court and obtains a paternity judgment against her now ex-husband and sues him to receive the child support that hasn't been paid from the divorce settlement. The court sees the DNA evidence, agrees with it, and grants the child support order. Now let's say the father of the child decides to challenge the custody arrangements and wants full custody of the child instead. He sues the mother so that he can have custody. If the mother claims in court documents that her ex-husband can't have custody because he isn't the father of the child, then this defense would not be allowed because of the principles of equitable estoppel.

What Must Be Present for Equitable Estoppel to Occur?

As with any legal process, there are legal criteria that must be met in order for equitable estoppel to occur. 1. One party must have attempted to conceal material facts or represent specific facts in the past. 2. These facts must be known by the party who is attempting to change their position on an issue. 3. The party that would be injured by the change of position must not know the truth of the facts that are being presented. 4. The misrepresentation of facts must have an intention of expectation that it will be acted upon. 5. It must also be relied upon in order to generate a legal decision in some form.

The purpose of having equitable estoppel in place is to make sure that the court systems aren't abused. Without this concept, anyone could literally sue whomever they wanted for whatever they wanted, even if they had received a judgment in the past. Imagine having a tenant sue a landlord for breech of contract because a 24 hour emergency maintenance request was not properly handled. Then that tenant would turn around, not pay the rent, and when the eviction process started, claim that he never lived at the location listed. It would amount to chaos in the legal system. By blocking people from changing a position that harms another, the court system can have sense of law and order to it. It eliminates fraud, creates consistency, and levels the playing field. This allows everyone to put up the best case possible for consideration.

Posted on Jan 13, 2015


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