If a court orders you to pay child support, I have two words for you: Pay It. Child support is taken so seriously by the Florida and federal government that it is one of the few types of debts that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy proceedings, and it can be enforced against you no matter which state in this country you live in or move to.
The Florida Statutes and Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure provide several consequences of not paying support.
A circuit court judge can order you to pay the attorney’s fees and costs of a person trying to enforce a child support order. The court can suspend your driver’s license, and even suspend or deny professional licenses and certificates for failure to pay. A family law judge can even throw you in jail if you have been ordered to pay support, the order is clear, you have the ability to pay the support, and yet you fail to pay the child support.
Keep in mind that if you were ordered to pay child support, and there has been a substantial change in circumstances since a court entered the child support order, you may be eligible for a modification of the child support order.
Though it may seem great for people receiving child support that there are so many methods for enforcing support orders, the truth is that support proceedings can oftentimes take many months. Additionally, the party seeking enforcement (as well as the person who owes child support) will usually end up spending thousands – and sometimes tens of thousands – of dollars out of pocket to attempt to recoup the child support.
This is why I highly recommend anyone seeking enforcement of child support or defending against child support enforcement to consider the private, respectful collaborative family law process. In the collaborative process, both parties retain a trained attorney who is hired for the limited basis of reaching an out-of-court settlement. The clients and their attorneys agree that the attorneys may not appear in contested court hearings, so they are focused solely on coming to a negotiated settlement.
If there has been a lot of conflict between the parties, I have found it beneficial to use a Facilitator, who is a neutral professional that helps parties communicate and reach an agreement. Facilitators usually have a mental health background, which is useful in child support cases as payment and failure to pay child support can oftentimes be connected to emotional issues that, if ignored, will lead to many years of unnecessary and costly contested litigation.
Further, it is usually more efficient to have a neutral financial professional, with either an accounting or financial planning background, to help create financial affidavits and gather all necessary financial documents. In most cases this gathering of financial information is done by both parties’ attorneys at their hourly rates, and so a consolidation of this effort by one professional with a financial background can greatly reduce costs. The financial professional may also provide options for settlement that the attorneys and parties could not have developed on their own.
The collaborative process is beneficial to the person who owes support in that embarrassing details never become part of the public record, and the parties can usually agree to a pay schedule or other accommodation that is uniquely tailored to the payor’s ability. The collaborative process is also beneficial to the person who is owed child support because he or she usually spends less money in professionals’ fees to get an acceptable result, and I have found that the collaborative process generally is much quicker than a court-based resolution (the Courts are overflowing in cases, and oftentimes it takes many months to schedule a hearing in front of a judge).
Additionally, once the parties have reached a resolution, then you can submit it to a judge (usually without a hearing) who can make it part of an enforceable court order.
Adam B. Cordover is the current president of Next Generation Divorce, a non-profit organization composed of caring and collaboratively-trained attorneys, mental health professionals, and financial professionals serving Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Sarasota, and Manatee Counties.