Child support is designed to ensure that children will have their financial needs met when their parents divorce or separate. Parties can agree to child support, or a court can order it, but either way it is not possible for parents to waive this responsibility. When payments are missed, child support arrears begin to accrue. Florida courts take child support seriously and have multiple means at their disposal to enforce this obligation. A parent who is facing an arrears issue should know his or her legal rights. Orlando Family Team can represent either the paying or receiving parent in an arrears dispute.
What Are Child Support Arrears?
Put simply, child support arrears are unpaid child support amounts. If you miss a payment, either in whole or in part, that amount is considered an arrearage. Arrears will accrue on missed payments that are ordered by the court; in other words, before you can have an arrearage, you need an order. If you believe the other parent should pay child support, but don’t yet have an order, you should obtain one immediately.
Child support arrears are not the same thing as retroactive child support. Once a judge orders child support, he or she has the option to order a “back amount” of support for some period of time prior to the order. This is known as retroactive child support, and it can be ordered from the time the parties separated until the date either parent filed for child support (with a limit of 24 months).
How Is Child Support Enforced In Florida?
The state of Florida has numerous enforcement tools available to compel a parent to pay his or her child support obligations. There is no statute of limitations on child support arrears, meaning the state can pursue you indefinitely for failing to pay. If you have fallen behind in your obligations, or you are the parent who is owed support, you should seek immediate legal counsel.
Depending on the circumstances in your case, some of those enforcement tools may include:
- Contempt of court proceedings
- Jail sentence of up to 179 days
- Garnishing wages
- Seizing bank accounts
- Seizing tax refunds and applying them towards arrears
- Suspending a driver’s license, vehicle registration, and/or license plate
- Suspending passport
- Loss of other licenses, including business, occupational, and hunting
- Liens against real property
- Seizing assets from the obligated parent’s estate (in the event of death) and selling them
When child support is payable through the State Disbursement Unit, the clerk of court can enter judgment on delinquent payments. Interest will immediately accrue, which means that your child support arrears will quickly increase.
What Steps Should I Take If I Am Owed Arrears?
If you are the parent who receives, or should be receiving, child support, and the other parent owes arrears, you have a couple of options. One is to enlist the help of Florida’s Department of Revenue, which is legally obligated to help parents collect unpaid support.
Because the Department of Revenue is often overloaded with cases, it may take a significant amount of time before your case is reached. Meanwhile, the child support may continue to go unpaid. You should therefore consider your other option, which is to contact a child support attorney who can take the obligated parent to court on contempt proceedings. Orlando Family Team is well experienced in this area and can assist you in quickly and effectively getting the help you need.
One thing you cannot do if you are owed child support is deny visitation or custody to the obligated parent. That’s because the state views child support and visitation as unrelated matters. Although you may be tempted to withhold the child from the delinquent parent, this can backfire and land you in hot water with the court. Don’t take matters into your own hands; reach out instead to a child support arrears attorney.
What Steps Should I Take If I Owe Arrears?
f you are the parent responsible for paying child support and you find yourself behind, it is imperative that you take action. The same is true if you have not yet fallen behind but it becomes difficult to meet both child support and your other financial obligations. Obviously, the law does not allow you to simply stop making payments because you disagree with the amount ordered.
In situations like this, you need an attorney who can explore the possibility of modifying your child support order. Not all orders can be modified, and there are standards that must be met before the court will grant a modification. But obtaining one could make you responsible for a smaller amount of child support, which will help you avoid contempt proceedings.
Parents who are facing contempt proceedings should take them seriously, considering the penalties described above. However, failure to pay child support does not automatically make the obligated parent in contempt. If contempt is initiated, the burden will be on the delinquent parent to show that he or she is unable to pay. Perhaps you lost your job, suffered a health emergency, or fell on hard financial times. No matter the reason, if you are incapable of meeting your child support obligations, don’t wait. Orlando Family Team can discuss options with you, help you get current on your child support, and defend you against contempt allegations.
Contact Our Orlando Child Support Arrears Attorney
Not all parents take their child support responsibility seriously, and their children may suffer as a result. On the other hand, financial difficulties make it easy for an obligated parent to fall behind through no fault of their own. Whichever side of the equation you find yourself on, the key is to act sooner rather than later. We understand both the need for child support to be paid and the reasons that many parents end up in arrears. If you need help collecting child support, or are defending yourself against contempt and other enforcement actions, turn to Orlando Family Team for help.