In nearly every child-custody/time sharing case, a child support obligation will be created for one of the parents. This is usually the obligation of the parent with higher income, or the party with the minority of court-ordered timesharing. Such an obligation may also be created by the Department of Revenue on behalf of a parent, particularly when the children are receiving medical, food, or cash benefits from the state. In most cases, a Florida Court will establish a child support obligation along with an order to deduct the respective child support amount from the obligor’s pay. However, in some cases where parties have agreed, or the person paying does not have a regular source of income or runs a personal business, an income deduction order may not be effective. In those cases, the obligor parent is might be making their payments directly to the other parent, or pays into the state’s disbursement unit, located in the Leon County / Florida area.
But what happens when the obligor-parent cannot pay their child support on time? With the recent quarantines, and limitations and closures of business due to the Corona virus pandemic, many Florida and Leon County residents paying and receiving child support are left with an uncertain future.
For those cases initiated by the Department of Revenue, the Department of Revenue may seek to enforce the Court’s order for child support and seek to hold the obligor parent in contempt of court for failing to follow the order to pay a certain amount by a certain time. A party receiving child support can also seek enforcement through the use of a private attorney (though a private attorney will almost certainly request payment for services). If found in contempt of court, the non-paying party may be required to pay certain amount of child support by a certain date or face incarceration through a “purge order”. A Court may order the offending party to pay for an attorney’s fees for bringing the issue to Court, even if not in contempt. Griffith v. Griffith, 941 So. 2d 1285 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006) (ordering payment of attorney’s fees despite minimal non-compliance with payment provisions). A court can also use other methods of enforcement, especially when it finds a party is unable to pay a purge amount to avoid jail time. Courts have ordered parties to seek employment through the state employment services and provide weekly reports on job searches, garnishing of wages, or creating an enforceable judgment for the unpaid monies as an “arrearage” that must be paid, even after the child reaches adulthood. In some cases, if the recurring income of a parent is not sufficient to meet the needs of the child, the court may order child support to be paid from non-recurring income or assets. § 61.30(13), Fla. Stat.
However, non-payment is not always a contemptible action. Contempt—in the most basic terms—requires some sort of Court order requiring action, that the party ordered to complete that action did not act as ordered, and that (most importantly) the action or non-action was willful. This “willful” element means that a party has the ability to pay, but chose not to. For those Florida and Leon County Residents facing financial hardship due to the complications from the recent pandemic, there may be hope to avoid fines, attorney’s fees, and or incarceration, so long as their conduct is not “willful” and the party truly does not have the ability to pay. Some facing job loss or their business closure, may not be able to earn income, and therefore may not have the ability to pay, and otherwise would be current with their obligation.
If you are in the Leon County / Florida area, and are facing uncertainty with your payment or receipt of child support, feel free to contact our Florida attorneys to discuss options regarding enforcement and or defense of contempt actions. Depending on your circumstance, relief may be available to you under Florida law.