Child Support Enforcement in Florida

Learn how child support is enforced and overdue payments are collected in Florida.

By , Attorney · Harvard Law School
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Each parent has a duty to provide for the basic needs of his or her child. When parents divorce or separate, usually the parent not living with the child (the noncustodial parent) will pay money to the custodial parent to help support the child. Sometimes, the noncustodial parent refuses to pay child support, and the custodial parent must ask the courts or state agencies for help collecting payments.

This article will explain how Florida courts enforce child support orders. If you have additional questions after reading this article, you should consult a local family law attorney for help.

Establishing Child Support in Florida

In order to enforce child support, you must have a child support order signed by a judge and filed with a court clerk's office. If you don't already have a court-approved child support order on file, you'll need to take steps to legally establish child support.

You can establish child support by filing a "Petition for Support" in the circuit court clerk's office for the county where you and your children live. You can file for child support:

Once you file the petition for support, the court will set a hearing date. Bring evidence of your income and your child's financial needs to the hearing.

If you and the other parent agree on a monthly amount of child support, and the judge approves that amount, the judge will sign a child support order formalizing your agreement. If you and the other parent don't agree, the judge will decide the amount of child support and include it in the order.

Enforcement of Child Support in Florida

Compared to other states, Florida has very strict laws to ensure that noncustodial parents pay child support.

Motion for Civil Contempt

Civil contempt is used when a person violates a court order. The most common way to enforce a child support order is by filing a "motion for civil contempt." Filing this motion (written request) tells the court that you have a valid child support order in place, and the noncustodial parent is behind on payments.

You can file a motion for civil contempt on your own, with an attorney's help, or by asking Florida Child Support Enforcement to file the motion on your behalf. If you are filing the motion for civil contempt on your own, you can use this form.

To prove your child's other parent is in contempt of the child support order, you'll have to show the following:

  • you have a valid child support order that has been approved and signed by a judge
  • the other parent hasn't paid child support according to the order, and
  • the other parent has the ability to pay.
    • the court will assume the other parent has the ability to pay; it's up to the other parent to show they can't pay if they want to avoid being held in contempt.

The judge will decide whether the other parent is in contempt at a hearing you both have to attend. If a judge believes you've proven your case, he or she will hold the noncustodial parent in contempt and issue an order stating how and when the parent should pay overdue support. The judge may also include other penalties for the delinquent parent in the order, such as fines or even jail time.

Court Orders to Collect Child Support

Once your child's other parent has been held in contempt of the child support order, the judge can order several different remedies to help you collect overdue and future support. The judge's order can:

  • establish a payment plan for the other parent to follow
  • withhold income from a delinquent parent's paychecks
  • intercept federal or state tax refunds when $500 or more is owed
  • intercept lottery winnings of more than $600
  • garnish (take directly) money from financial accounts when more than $600 or 4 months' of child support is owed
  • place liens on vehicles and force their sale when $600 or more is owed
  • place liens on real or other personal property and order their sale
  • claim and sell a delinquent parent's abandoned or unclaimed property
  • freeze a home equity line for a parent to prevent potential child support money from being spent
  • intercept worker's compensation funds owed to a delinquent parent, and
  • incarcerate a delinquent parent up to a year until overdue child support is paid.

Additionally, a court can order delinquent parents to reimburse the custodial parent's attorney's fees and other expenses related to the contempt motion, including travel expenses to the court and expert witness costs.

Florida Child Support Enforcement (CSE) can also help you enforce child support orders with the following services:

  • Financial Institution Date Match program: CSE can check all Florida financial records (for example, records for bank accounts and money market accounts) to see if delinquent parents have funds that could be used to pay child support.
  • Driving privilege revocation: the Department of Motor Vehicles can suspend delinquent parents' driver's licenses and car registrations until they pay overdue support or agree to a payment plan.
  • Professional license and certificate suspension: Florida can suspend delinquent parents' professional, occupational, or recreational licenses until they pay overdue support or agree to a payment plan.

Other Penalties for Nonpayment of Child Support in Florida

Florida law also has other methods that do not directly obtain child support from delinquent parents, but instead punish those parents for nonpayment:

  • Florida may freeze delinquent parent's financial accounts when they are behind at least $600 or 4 months' child support.
  • Florida Child Support Enforcement may report delinquent parents to consumer reporting agencies (credit bureaus) when they are behind by 15 days on child support.
  • Florida reports parents behind by $2500 or more on child support to the U.S. Department of State to have their passport revoked or passport application denied.

If you have any other questions about enforcing child support in Florida, contact a local family law attorney for advice.

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