Enforcing a Child Support Order When Your Ex Won’t Pay
Parents, whether married or not, have a legal duty to provide financial support for their biological and adopted children. When a couple’s relationship ends by divorce or legal separation, the family court issues child support orders, where one spouse makes payments to help the other parent with child-rearing expenses. The state of Florida has an interest in protecting minor children from impoverishment. Therefore, the state has numerous enforcement mechanisms to compel parents who aren’t making payments to comply with the order.
When one parent does not pay, the other parent may file a motion for contempt with the appropriate family court. A motion for contempt recites the responding parent’s support obligation and alleges the failure to pay in accordance with existing orders. The responding parent must prove that he or she did, in fact, pay or that there is a very good reason that payments have been missed or delayed. If there is an unexcused deficiency, the responding party could face serious consequences.
If the motion for contempt is granted, the courts can then enforce the orders using different forms of legal/financial leverage, such as:
- Supplemental orders — The court may revise the existing orders to account for the financial shortfall. These tend to constitute a warning to the offending parent to take the support obligation more seriously.
- Wage garnishments — A judge may order that some of the respondent’s wages be withheld by the employer and sent directly to the other parent for the child support obligation.
- Property liens — The state may place liens on the uncooperative spouse’s valuable property such as real estate or motor vehicles. Properties with liens on them cannot be sold until the obligation is paid in full with interest and applicable fees.
- Interception of funds/benefits — The state can intercept and seize government payments to put towards the debt. These include income tax refunds, workers’ compensation benefits, lottery prizes, etc.
- Incarceration — In extreme cases a judge can put an obstinate non-paying parent in prison for up to one year. This is usually the option of last resort to compel compliance with child support orders.
Another method to compel a parent to comply with a support order is an action through Florida’s state child support program. These are cases brought directly by the state against a non-paying parent, and actions entail most of the same remedies listed above. In addition, program representatives provide referrals to state job training and employment resources for those having difficulty generating sufficient income.
The state also has certain punitive measures it can take against those who refuse to pay. While these do not involve the direct seizure of funds, the following actions can be very persuasive when compelling an uncooperative spouse to pay child support:
- Revocation of their Florida driving license
- Revocation/non-renewal of their U.S. passport
- Freezing any private bank accounts
- Reporting the unpaid debt to the consumer credit bureaus
At Timothy W. Terry, Attorney at Law in Orlando, I represent family law clients throughout the city who are looking to enforce a child support order. If you have a support enforcement issue, feel free to call 407-495-2399 or contact us online for an initial consultation.