Proposed Law Still Permits Harsh Child Support Penalties
Child support payments are significant and continuing financial obligations that can put a strain on parents struggling to meet their expenses. Few parents deliberately shirk paying this support, but falling behind due to loss of income, injury or illness can be hard to overcome. The Florida Department of Revenue and family court judges have a number of options for enforcing these obligations when a parent becomes delinquent. One option frequently used to compel compliance with non-payment of administrative and other non-traffic fees is the suspension of a person’s driver’s license. Commonly, the person has no idea a suspension was imposed until pulled over for a traffic infraction, and at this point discovers he/she owes an amount he/she has no reasonable way to pay the once penalties and interest are added. Obviously, having a driver’s license suspended prevents a person from getting to and from work, an imposition that only makes it harder to get the money together to pay the overdue balance. A bill is currently under consideration in the State legislature that would provide relief for suspensions related to non-traffic infractions and certain convictions if an inability to pay is demonstrated. However, child support obligations, unfortunately, are specifically excluded from this measure. Consequently, parents facing suspension or those who are already deprived of their driving privileges still have limited options A discussion of how parents with overdue support get their license back, and options when child support obligations become more than one can reasonably pay, will follow below.
Prior to the suspension of a driver’s license for non-payment of child support, the parent is supposed to receive notice about the impending action, so he/she can do something to prevent this result. However, many never receive this notice, and the law does not give parents a lot of leeway to avoid this outcome unless he/she has all the money presently owing to become current on the obligation. Specifically, the primary way a person can have a driver’s license reinstated or avoid suspension entirely is to pay the overdue amount plus any penalties and interest. This number can reach into the thousands of dollars, and easily be beyond the financial ability of many individuals in this situation. Otherwise, a parent must be able to demonstrate one of the following:
- a written agreement with the other parent on a payment plan, or an appearance in court to explain why he/she has not been paying;
- filing a petition to contest the delinquency;
- he/she is receiving unemployment;
- he/she is receiving disability or public assistance; or
- he/she is making payments under a bankruptcy plan.
Trying to explain why one is behind on child support may not stop the suspension of the license and could even land the parent in jail if the court finds the non-payment to be willful. Thus, it is important to have an attorney at these hearings, so the parent is given a real opportunity to address the situation and make it right.
Modifying Child Support
Before a driver’s license suspension or other enforcement measure is levied to coerce payment, a parent struggling to meet this obligation should be proactive and seek a modification of the payment amount. Florida law permits courts to modify existing child support orders if a substantial change in circumstances occurs, which includes a decrease in income or other issues that hinder a parent’s ability to make regular payments. A family law attorney can advise on whether specific circumstances are likely to persuade a court that a modification is necessary.
Contact an Orlando Child Support Lawyer
Child support is an obligation the State will go to great lengths to enforce, so if you find yourself in danger of falling behind, talk to a family law attorney about your options. The attorneys at the Donna Hung Law Group help parents in the Orlando area tackle all issues related to child custody and support and can help you avoid the worst case scenario. Contact us at (407) 999-0099 for a consultation.