Penalties for Failure to Pay Child Support in Florida

By Kay Lee

Child support is a court-ordered payment paid by the noncustodial parent and designated to help the custodial parent with expenses of raising children. Each state has laws dictating how child support orders will be enforced if a noncustodial parent fails to make payments. Florida's procedures are especially designed to prevent failures in paying for child support before they occur.

State Registration

To receive the full benefit of state enforcement assistance, the custodial parent should register her child support court order with the state. Once the order has been registered, Florida will facilitate payments and enforcement actions in the event that the noncustodial parent falls behind on payments. If you receive public benefits such as Medicaid or welfare, you are automatically referred to Florida’s Child Support Enforcement Division. Others should complete a registration application so the state can begin enforcement efforts.

Wage Garnishment

The primary method of collecting child support payments in Florida is through wage garnishment. Florida employers collect more than three-quarters of the total child support owed by withholding the amount necessary to pay current support obligations, minimizing the possibility that the noncustodial parent will fall behind. If the automatic income withholding method fails for some reason, Florida can automatically take action to obtain payment. The state has a variety of enforcement methods beyond the automatic wage withholding to secure payment, and in certain cases the federal government may also get involved.

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Collection of Past Due Payments

Once child support is more than 30 days late, the debt can be reported to a credit agency until the outstanding child support amounts have been paid. Also, if a parent is in arrears and his Florida driver’s license has expired, the state may deny renewal of the license. The state may also suspend an active driver’s license for failing to meet child support obligations or place a lien on the noncustodial parent’s car or other personal or real property, which prevents the owner from selling or borrowing against the property. If the state owes money to the noncustodial parent, it can retain that payment as full or partial satisfaction for owed child support. For example, owed child support could be deducted if the noncustodial parent wins in the state lottery. The federal government can also withhold tax refunds to collect past-due child support.

Willful Refusal to Pay

If a noncustodial parent refuses to pay child support after the state has taken several enforcement measures, the court can hold him or her in contempt of its orders. For contempt, the court must find that the parent was able to pay but refused. If support is not paid, the consequences of contempt are severe, ranging from the court modifying custody arrangements to assessing fines. Ultimately, the parent held in contempt can face possible jail time until the amount is paid; this is called a purge amount. The court may also determine a specific period for jail time, up to five months and 29 days without a jury trial. It is within the court’s discretion to select the punishment that best fits the situation. In addition to a state court contempt order for willful refusal to pay child support, the federal government may also intervene. When payments are not made for more than a year, or the outstanding amount of child support owed is more than $5,000, the federal government may act through the Office of the Inspector General. The OIG’s office has the authority to impose penalties such as fines, up to 6 months in prison or both.

Domesticated Order

If an individual leaves Florida in hopes of shedding his child support obligation, the state will continue to seek payment by establishing the order in another state. The outstanding amount of child support will be pursued by an attorney or the relevant agency in the new state. To establish or domesticate the child support obligation, a certified copy of the child support order must be filed in the court in the new state along with an action seeking domestication of the child support order and notice given to the noncustodial parent.

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