Title IV-D is a section of federal law entitled, "Grants to States for Aid and Services to Needy Families with Children and for Child-Welfare Services".
Important Information for the parent who is or may be paying child support in cases where the Florida Department of Revenue is involved pursuant to Title IV-D of the Social Security Act (42 USC §§ 651, et. seq.)
The Florida Department of Revenue (DOR) is the state agency responsible for collecting and enforcing child support. The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) represents the Florida Department of Revenue in Sarasota and DeSoto counties. In Manatee County, the Clerk of Court supplies attorneys for DOR. These attorneys help the DOR fulfill its statutory requirement to ensure that the children in the state of Florida are maintained from the resources of their parents to the fullest extent possible. These attorneys do not represent parents receiving or attempting to modify child support directly, but they represent the DOR in establishing, enforcing, or modifying child support. By law, the attorney representing the DOR does not represent or help any parent in the action.
It is important that you keep your own record of payments, correspondence, court documents and orders. Child support agencies and the courts handle thousands of cases each year. For the most part they are efficient. However the system does not operate flawlessly. Mistakes do happen. The file you keep may be more accurate that the government’s. It will save considerable time, stress, and anxiety if you keep your child support file complete, updated and organized; and always bring it to court with you.
When you talk to anyone associated with the court or state agencies regarding child support matters keep a written record of the date, the name of the person with whom you spoke, the number you called, and a summary of what was said. Having a detailed record will be helpful to you on the day you are scheduled to appear in court.
READ ALL COURT ORDERS AND GOVERNMENT SUPPORT LETTERS FROM BEGINNING TO END. Do this no matter how boring, full of legalese, or lengthy they are. The devil is in the details. Many parents paying support have suffered serious penalties, including arrest, because they did not carefully read, study and follow court orders or letters received from child support enforcement agencies.
The following are frequently asked questions. The answers are general and simplified. Consultation with an attorney to review the facts of your particular situation is strongly recommended.
Generally, Florida law requires all parents to support their children until age 18 or until graduation from high school if the child is performing in good faith, with the reasonable expectation of graduation prior to turning nineteen (19).. In some cases, for example, where a child is disabled or has special needs, the court may require child support beyond age 18.
Not unless both parties agree to it in writing when they divorce or agree on child support. Many parents voluntarily pay for college or vocational training past 18 but it is not a legal requirement.
No. Parents can and should agree to a child support payment schedule by written agreement. However, an agreement to waive child support is not enforceable in Florida. The court is required to consider the best interests of the children, and when necessary the court is empowered to disregard such agreements and require payment of guideline child support.
Usually free lawyers are provided to the financially distressed only in criminal cases, so most parents paying child support appear in court without attorneys. If you have tried but failed to get an attorney’s help, call the Florida Bar Referral Service at 800-342-8011. For a fee of $25.00 you can obtain a consultation with a local lawyer who practices family law. The $25.00 will cover a half-hour interview. At that time you can ask questions, talk about what papers you need to file, and get advice about how to proceed on your own should you choose to do so. But you should come to the attorney’s conference organized and prepared. There is no obligation past the 30 minute consultation, but you may be able to work out a satisfactory financial arrangement with the lawyer at that time
Come to court organized, with a completed Family Law Financial Affidavit (available from the clerk). The affidavit will show your income and itemized expenses. Bring papers that support your income and expenses, such as pay stubs, rent receipts, tax returns for the last 3 years, credit card statements and bank account statements. If you are having financial difficulties and are falling behind in payments, be prepared to explain why this has happened, and be ready to prove your case with documents or witnesses.
Child support disputes typically are resolved in open court by a judicial officer called a child support enforcement hearing officer, or a magistrate in child support cases that do not involve the DOR. The hearings are recorded on an audio disk. You and other persons may be placed under oath and asked questions by the DOR attorney. You will also be allowed to ask questions of witnesses.
Hearing officers and magistrates are experts and specialists in child support cases. In most instances the judicial officer will make a ruling while both parties are present. It will be followed by a written recommendation, a copy of which will be provided to you. A Family Law Division judge will review the judicial officer’s recommendation, after which the judge will promptly enter an approval order. Sometimes, instead of approving the recommendation, the reviewing judge finds good cause to amend the order, conduct further proceedings, or refer the matter back to the hearing officer or magistrate for another hearing. In either case you will receive by mail a copy of the recommendation and the reviewing judge’s order that follows
The fact that a party does not like the result is not enough to change a hearing officer/magistrate’s ruling. There must be good and sufficient legal reasons for the judge to set aside or amend the order approving the recommendation. The procedure, briefly, is as follows:
Two things must happen before a party can make a timely objection. First, the judicial officer has to prepare, sign and file his or her recommendation with findings of fact and conclusions of law. Second, a Family Law judge must review the recommendation, then sign and enter an order approving the decision.
Once the Family Law Division judge has entered an order approving the hearing officer or magistrate’s recommendation, either party may file a motion to vacate, or exceptions to a magistrate’s recommended order. However the motion to vacate or exceptions must be filed within 10 days of the judge’s order approving the recommendation or the right to object is lost. Either side can request a hearing on the motion, but the parent filing the motion should immediately request a hearing date. The clerk of court can advise how to obtain hearing time from the court.
The parent filing the motion must provide the judge with a record or transcript of the hearing officer or magistrate’s hearing as required by Family Law Rule of Procedure Rule 12.491(h) and comply with the time requirements set forth in the rule. Go to the circuit website home page at http://12circuit.state.fl.us where you will find a link to “Digital Court Recording.” There you will find instructions for obtaining a copy of the audio recording of your hearing.
Remember, the motion to vacate or exceptions should not be filed until the order approving the hearing officer or magistrate’s recommendation has been signed by the Family Division judge, and the motion must be filed within 10 days of the approval order. As with all motions, copies must be provided to the Department of Revenue in DOR cases and the opposing parent, or his or her attorney, if any. A Notice of Hearing (form available from the clerk) should accompany the motion.
In setting child support, Florida judges, hearing officers, and magistrates are required to use Child Support Guidelines established by the legislature. These are standard and the courts have little discretion to deviate from them. You will pay what other parents pay in similar circumstances. The Guidelines use a formula that involves the income of both parents, and which take into account expenses such as child care and health insurance. Go to http://dor.myflorida.com/dor/ where you will find a Guideline Worksheet and calculator. The following information from each parent will be necessary to ensure the best result:
Family law attorneys have computer programs and the expertise to make sophisticated, statutorily approved adjustments in child support that may be more agreeable to your financial condition. If you can’t afford an attorney for the entire case you may be able to afford one just to help with the preparation of the Guidelines Worksheet and Family Law Financial Affidavit. The Worksheet and Affidavit are important documents and are relied on by judicial officers. They are useful to get a fair result so you need to make them as accurate as possible. Financial Affidavit forms can be obtained from the clerk of court or for free at www.flcourts.org.
If you have never had child support set by a judge, hearing officer, or magistrate, nor signed an agreement for support approved by a court, a married person may ask for it in a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Petition for Support Unconnected to Divorce. Unmarried persons may ask the court to fix the amount in a Petition to Determine Paternity or a Petition for Support. Petition forms and instructions are available from the clerk or for free at www.flcourts.org. If you are served with a copy of a petition seeking support, the same website will advise what forms to use to answer. Failure to file a document called an “answer” after service of a petition can result in a default, meaning the other side gets what they want without concern for your interests.
You could be in serious trouble if you fail to keep the clerk, DOR, or the Disbursement Unit informed of your contact information and job status. U.S. mail is the approved way lawyers and the courts are required to inform you of case activity. For example, your records could reflect that you are current in your payments, but the clerk of court’s payment history may indicate you have missed some payments. DOR may take action to suspend your driver’s license for non payment or take other enforcement action. Letters, court documents and notice of subsequent hearings regarding your child support obligation will be mailed to the address in your order or to the last address you provided the court and DOR. If mail is returned undelivered, by default and by law you might be bound to court action which you may not know about, increasing your support obligation or even leading to a erroneous arrest. Bottom line: Stay in touch with the Clerk of Court in the county where your case in located, the Department of Revenue and the Florida State Disbursement Unit (if you make payments through the Disbursement Unit.)
If you are named on the birth certificate as the father, you are legally presumed to be the father. You should consult an attorney to see if paternity can be challenged. If you are not on the birth certificate and have not otherwise formally acknowledged paternity, you may contact DOR to request a DNA test which will prove or disprove that you are the father.
Do not sign any papers at the hospital when the child is born or in court confirming paternity unless you are positive you are the father. Such papers are legally binding and may be enforced even if you later discover you are not the father.
Most likely yes. Unless the mother agrees another man is the father or your paternity is disproven in court, you are the legal father and must pay support. Whether you can successfully challenge paternity and avoid paying support for a child is a complicated, fact driven issue. It can only be addressed by consultation with an attorney. Sometimes, under Florida law when a child is conceived by the wife during marriage the husband may be required to pay support for that child, even if it is likely that child is not his. CONTACT AN ATTORNEY IF THIS IS AN ISSUE WITH YOU.
The clerk in the county where your case is located has a Family Law Case History of payments. You may request a copy from the clerk and check it against your cancelled checks or payment receipts. You are responsible for keeping accurate records. In the event of dispute, it will be your burden to prove the government accounting is wrong. Additional questions may be addressed to Child Support Customer Service at 1-800-622-KIDS (5437).
Yes. The rules of parental contact are the same regardless of whether the parents are married or unmarried. Child support can not be withheld because you are prevented from sharing time with your child, or because you have no interest in being in the child’s life.
Non-payment of child support is not a legal basis for the other parent to stop your time sharing with your child. Even if you are behind in child support, you are entitled to contact with your child.
If you are being unjustifiably prevented from seeing your child and have no court approved time sharing schedule, if unmarried you may file a paternity action seeking time-sharing. If the other parent is not following a court-approved agreement, you may file a motion for contempt to enforce the agreement. The clerk of court has forms to help you with this or you can find the forms at www.flcourts.org. In any event, child support must continue to be paid.
Willful non-compliance with a support order can lead to the county jail. Before that happens, the hearing officer or magistrate may require the obligor to sell assets of value and pay the proceeds to the other parent. It is now routine for the court to enter Income Deduction Orders (known as IDOs) requiring employers to take support payments out of the paying parents’ paychecks. A person obligated to pay support may be required to get a second job, job training or additional education. DOR also has authority to enforce the court order requiring payment using any of these methods:
Also, support orders are enforceable by civil contempt. This means if the court finds there is an ability to pay and non-payment is willful, the court may order the obligor to be held in county jail UNTIL HE OR SHE PAYS.
In short, life can become very uncomfortable for willful non-payment of child support
If your child support is set by court order or by a written agreement officially approved by the court, to reduce it you must file a Supplemental Petition to Modify, a form available from the clerk or for free at www.flcourts.org/. However, to justify a modification the law requires you to prove there has been a “substantial change in circumstances.” The law requires the change in circumstances to be involuntary, significant, material, and permanent in nature. Examples of substantial changes are: if your income decreased such that an updated Child Support Guideline shows a 15% lower amount for your share of the support; or you lose your job and there is no reasonable expectation that you can be re-employed within the foreseeable future at substantially the same income as the job you lost.
Yes. Child support can go up or down depending on the economic circumstances of the parents. You are entitled to file a Supplemental Petition to Modify Child Support upward, in which case both parties’ income and expenses will be re-examined, and if found appropriate, your share may be reduced
NO. Here is the legal rule: Child support continues to accrue at the court-ordered amount, without reduction, until the date the paying parent files a Supplemental Petition for Modification. Once the court learns the reason for the job loss or income reduction (assuming the court finds the excuse legitimate) the magistrate has authority to reduce child support retroactive to the date the Supplemental Petition was filed. This can amount to considerable savings.
When the paying parent loses a job or becomes seriously ill or injured, child support payments do not stop. Furthermore, the court does not even have the legal authority to reduce child support during that period. The only way a paying parent can give the court authority to stop or reduce child support for any reason, including job loss, illness, or injury is to file a Supplemental Petition for Modification. The Supreme Court’s website (www.flcourts.org) has free forms and instruction for completing the Supplemental Petition and for service of process on the proper parties. Forms also are available from your local clerk of court for a fee.
If you are facing a contempt hearing and have also filed a Supplemental Petition, DOR should be contacted to see if an agreement can be reached that would allow your Supplemental Petition to be heard at the same time as the motion for contempt. DOR often will accommodate this request, depending on the circumstances of your case. Sometimes an arrangement can be reached that will eliminate the need for you to appear in court. If DOR can not agree to a joint hearing, inform the magistrate when you attend the contempt hearing that a Supplemental Petition has been filed. The court has discretion to grant a continuance if you can demonstrate good cause for the magistrate to do so. Filing of the Supplemental Petition DOES NOT excuse you from attending the contempt hearing.
REMEMBER: Without a Supplemental Petition being filed, the court has NO DISCRETION to change your child support obligation. Unfortunately, most paying parents do not know this. They attend the contempt hearing expecting the court to reduce their support payment retroactive to the date their job was lost or the injury or illness occurred. This is a big mistake because the total unpaid support pre-dating the court’s contempt or enforcement order, including all the time you were out of work, may be established as a lump sum arrearage. This can greatly increase the paying parent’s obligation.
Simply stated, filing a Supplemental Petition for Modification has the potential of stopping the clock on arrearage, or at least reducing it. It gives the paying parent a legal basis for asking the court to keep the arrearage as low as possible. This is important because by law the obligation to pay arrearage continues past the child’s 18th birthday.
Word to the wise: File your Supplemental Petition to Modify and set it for hearing as soon as you know you have suffered or are about to suffer a dramatic and extended income loss. Do this even if DOR has taken no action to enforce the order requiring payment or to hold you in contempt for non-payment. Otherwise, your support debt continues to grow daily.
This is a common situation and the courts are alert for parents attempting to evade child support obligations. If the court finds you are voluntarily underemployed or unemployed, you may be forced to pay support based not on what you actually earn, but on what you could earn, given your skills and education. This is called your “imputed income.” For example, a Registered Nurse who gets a job at minimum wage at 7-11, may be required to pay support based on a typical nurse’s salary. If you are taking money under the table for goods or services, the court may estimate what people in your trade or vocation typically make in the area where you live and order you to pay that amount, regardless of whether or not you actually earn that amount.
To avoid being held in contempt, you will be required to show you have diligently searched in good faith for the best job for which you are qualified, and if none are available, that you took the next best job. For the period a person is unemployed, the court may require able bodied parents to participate in active job searches and to regularly report their efforts to the court.
In some cases, the court may require you to undergo vocational or skills training while holding down some form of interim employment. Florida law does not allow you to quit work or be underemployed to avoid paying child support. Nor does the law give you the option of abandoning a lucrative career because you found a lesser paying job that is more fun. Your children come first and the law requires them to be supported to the best of your ability.
Yes. Your obligation to pay started when the court entered the the order requiring you to pay support,, not when your employer deducts the first payment. You should arrange with DOR to make payments in the interim. Failure to do so may subject you to contempt and create unnecessary arrearage and accounting complications.
By law, the paying parent has no control over how the child support payments are spent. However, if the child is continually not being properly cared for, fed, clothed, and housed, or the child is in danger due to the other parent’s behavior, then in a serious case there may be grounds to modify aspects of parental responsibility or time-sharing arrangements. To do this you will have to file the proper papers. Forms to do this are available through the clerk.
If the Department of Revenue is involved, your court order likely says direct payments such as these will be considered gifts for which no credit will be given. In non-DOR cases, usually you will get credit only if the parent owed the support agrees in writing to accept these in lieu of child support. If a dispute arises over the arrearage, it can be an accounting nightmare. It will be your burden to prove there was an agreement to have such payments credited toward child support. Without signed receipts or a written consent signed by the parent owed support, these payments may be considered gifts, and it may be difficult for you to prove otherwise in court.
Yes. By law when parents with whom the child resides for a majority of the time receive certain types of public assistance or welfare, they must cooperate with the Florida Department of Revenue to obtain child support from the other parent. In such cases the parents with whom the child resides for a majority of the time have no say in DOR’s decision to seek child support, and whether they like it or not, they are required to cooperate with the agency or forfeit benefits.
Yes. While there are some exceptions, as a general rule an informal arrangement modifying the time-sharing arrangement is not binding until both parties sign a written agreement confirming the change and a court order is entered approving the agreement. As the official nonresidential parent you remain obligated to pay support, with arrearage accruing, until the other parent signs an agreement consenting to the change, or you file a Supplemental Petition for Modification and ask for the court to change your status. Forms for this are available from the clerk or for free at www.flcourts.org.
Department of Revenue
Child Support Customer Service
DOR Sarasota Office
Manatee County Child Support Office
DeSoto County Child Support Office