Florida Law on Back Child Support Arrears
By Beverly Bird
Updated November 28, 2018
The Florida Department of Revenue stands by ready to help parents with the collection of child support, both past due and current. For assistance with child support, you can apply for services with the state's Child Support Program, run by the Department of Revenue. You can apply for services online, by calling the Child Support Program or by visiting your local child support office. If you’re receiving public assistance from the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the Florida DOR automatically steps in to oversee your child support account.
If you have applied to open a case for child support services with Florida's Child Support Program, sign up for its eServices website so that you can easily access your case activity, update information, see payments made and print payment histories and more.
Collection of Arrears
Florida's Department of Revenue's Child Support Program monitors child support payments and will take measures to encourage payment if the parent does not pay as ordered. Once you have a case for child support services, the DOR can negotiate a payment agreement with your ex to collect child support arrears. If your ex does not pay, some of the measures that the Child Support Program may take include:
- The suspension of the parent's Florida driver’s license.
- The suspension of the parent's professional, business and recreational licenses.
- Liens on personal property.
- The interception of tax refunds.
- The interception of lottery winnings of $600 or more.
- Deducting support payments from the parent's paychecks, bonuses, reemployment and worker's compensation.
- The seizure of funds in the parent's bank accounts up to the amount she owes.
To avoid and/or remedy any of these measures, your ex can enter into a written agreement with the Child Support Program to pay their past-due support. Written agreements usually call for regular monthly payments.
If you're not signed up for services with the DOR and your ex falls behind, you can file a motion for contempt with the court, either on your own or with the help of an attorney. This sets the legal wheels in motion. The court will schedule a hearing and the judge will determine the extent of your ex's arrears. If he willfully doesn’t pay up or agree to payment arrangements, the court can send him to jail until he pays an amount set by the judge.
The Statute of Limitations
Some states limit the amount of time you have to try to collect child support arrears from your child’s other parent, but this isn’t the case in Florida. There’s no statute of limitations here, so even if one or more of your children have moved beyond the need for support – they’re all grown up now and you may no longer have an active child support order – you can still try to collect. If their other parent dies, you can make a claim to his estate for the child support he didn't pay during his lifetime.
Unlike other states that have debt compromise policies, child support debt forgiveness is rare in Florida. Yet a noncustodial parent can try to raise certain defenses against collection of past due support. Florida law allows her to try to prove a legal concept called "laches" – you waited so long to do anything to try to collect from her that she should no longer be held responsible. The court must find a "substantial and inexcusable delay" on your part to collect child support. In one Florida case, the court found a "substantial and inexcusable delay" when the wife knew the husband's whereabouts during the time he didn't pay child support, withdrew her claim for child support and then didn't refile until nine years later.
Your ex might also claim something called "equitable estoppel." Under equitable estoppel, your ex will have to present evidence of "misrepresentation of a material fact" by you and that he made a "detrimental change of position based on a belief in the misrepresented fact." For example, if you wrote to your ex that she does not owe you any child support and she, because of what you wrote, used the money for something else.
Florida's Long-Arm Statute
If your ex pulls up stakes and heads out of state, you’re not out of luck. You can register your Florida child support order in any state he’s moved to and that state then becomes legally obligated to help you collect. You can also file a motion for contempt against him in Florida even though he no longer lives there. You must have him served with a copy of the motion according to the rules in whatever state he’s moved to. Florida's long-arm statute lays out a series of rules you can follow if you don’t yet have a formal support order when he leaves the state. Florida can claim jurisdiction over your ex and decide the case – even though he now lives elsewhere – under certain circumstances, such as if he lived in Florida for a period of time before you file the case.
Florida can also enforce child support orders from other states. To do this, you will need to give Florida's Child Support Program with a copy of your support order and the address of both parents.
- The Florida Bar Journal: Long-Arm Jurisdiction in Support and Divorce Actions – The Unwary Beware
- Florida Department of Revenue: FAQ Search
- Office of Child Support Enforcement: State Child Support Agencies With Debt Compromise Policies
- Florida Department of Revenue: What Can I Do With eServices?
- Florida Department of Revenue: Apply for Child Support Services
- Florida Law Help: What if I can't Pay My Child Support?
- FindLaw: Garcia v. Garcia
- FindLaw: Department of Revenue Thorman v. Holley
- Florida Department of Revenue: Written Agreement
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.