PORTLAND, Maine — The founder of a successful chain of car dealerships who’s now 88 and suffering from dementia is being ordered to pay more than 40 years worth of spousal support to his former wife.

John “Jack” Quirk Sr., founder of what’s now the Quirk Auto Group, must pay nearly $400,000 for support dating to 1977, interest and attorney fees, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled.

His former wife, Frances, went to court two years ago to enforce a $45-per-week judgment that was issued Jan. 8, 1973.

It was an unusual case both because of the amount of time that elapsed and Quirk’s inability to assist his legal counsel because he suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, said Christopher MacLean, his attorney.

MacLean invoked the so-called laches defense which applies to situations where there’s an excessive or unreasonable delay in seeking legal recourse.

But a judge sided with Frances Quirk who contended one of the reasons she delayed action was that she feared her former husband. The judge awarded $97,875 in back payments, which grew to $367,590 with accrued interest over 43 years, along with $18,029 in attorney fees.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court, in a unanimous ruling issued on Thursday, upheld the judge’s findings.

Frances Quirk’s attorney didn’t return a call seeking comment.

MacLean said her argument that she delayed proceedings because she feared her former husband was undercut by the fact that they appeared together at weddings, funerals and other events after the divorce.

“It is a frustrating result, but it is the end result. We had a fair opportunity to fight the matter and take it up on appeal. Now we have to comply, no matter how fair or unfair we believe it to be,” he said.