Note: Robert Hannan was formerly a government Child Support and Alimony enforcement Attorney who was responsible for the establishment, modification and enforcement of over 30,000 cases in Broward and Dade County.
As a former government child-support prosecutor for what is now known as the Department of Revenue, Mr. Hannan has handled literally thousands of child support cases. Mr. Hannan not only represented what is currently known as Department of Revenue, Child Support Enforcement Division, he also prosecuted child support cases on behalf of the Broward County Support Enforcement Division as well as the Miami-Dade County State Attorneys' office.
Payment of child-support in the state of Florida is mandated under Florida law. Parties cannot even agree to waive child support as the right to support basically belongs to the child or children. Marriage is irrelevant when it comes to the issue of child support.
The calculations required to determine child-support are the same, regardless of whether the child was conceived during a very short-term relationship, including a very brief encounter, or whether the child was conceived during a long-term marriage.
The law treats the child exactly the same as it concerns child-support. The only difference may entail the question of paternity when a child is born out of wedlock. As a general proposition, paternity is rather simple to determine with the advent of DNA testing.
The Child support amount is established generally by the use and application of the Florida State child support guidelines. The guidelines represent a presumptive amount of support to be paid by the payor parent or spouse to the recipient parent or spouse. The guideline amount of child support is basically determined by looking at a grid which represents combined net monthly incomes of the parents and the number of children. When determining the amount of income to be applied to the grid, certain items are deductible from gross income such as: income taxes, Social Security deductions, mandatory union dues and the like. What is not deductible are items such as your rent or mortgage, your electric bill, auto expenses, and the like. In other words the view is that child support should be paid before all of your other expenses, except those listed above. Deviations from the child support guidelines can be given to the payor spouse or parent based on items such as when the child or children spend 40% or more of the overnights with the parent or spouse who has the obligation to pay child support. There are other issues which can create a basis to deviate from the child support guidelines. Once the child support amount is established it is often deducted directly from the payor parent or spouse's paycheck. The child support is generally directed to be paid through the FDLSU, which is a state agency that acts as a clearinghouse for all payments.
Generally any parent who cares for a child in the state of Florida who is not receiving financial assistance from the other parent, who lives elsewhere, can apply to the Department of Revenue, Child Support Enforcement, which will establish and enforce child support for the parent who is taking care of the child.
The Department of Revenue basically acts as an arm of the federal agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Department of Revenue in Broward County is represented by the state Attorney General and cases are handled in court by Assistant Attorney Generals.
They establish and enforce hundreds of child support cases monthly in court proceedings. The Department of Revenue has the ability, and very often does, convince child support hearing officers or Circuit Court judges, that a non-paying parent or spouse is in contempt of court for their unwillingness to pay child support as previously court-ordered. The hearing officer has the ability to order jail time if child support payments are not made. This is often done by way of ordering a "purge" after the non-paying spouse is found in contempt of court. The Department of Revenue can and does suspend the driver's license of the non-paying parent or spouse and intercepts Internal Revenue Service tax refunds to pay the unpaid support obligation. It is not a good idea to walk into a Department of Revenue child support hearing without an attorney. Within the courtroom, there is a judge or Hearing Officer, a bailiff, an Assistant Attorney General, a Department of Revenue case worker and you. Before you realize the hearing is underway the hearing is already is winding down with a flurry of activity. You are handed a small piece of paper telling you how much you need to pay and where to pay it, along with the warning to make these payments until you see the amount coming out of your paycheck.
The case just outlined is an initial determination of paternity and support. A motion for contempt happens just as fast and one wrong statement may seal your fate in a bad way. This is not to say that the Department of Revenue is underhanded, they are not, but rather a cautionary note that the Department handles 10 or more cases per court session and they move their cases very fast and in a very routine fashion. To the Department, it is business as usual, but to the unknowing "Respondent," it is often a case of "what just happened?" Not knowing what to say and when to say it can lead to a result that marks the beginning of a very bad experience.
As to the "purge" previously mentioned, purge is basically a method by which a non-paying spouse is given the ability to "purge" him or herself of a finding of contempt in order to stay out of jail. Before a nonpaying parent or spouse can be ordered to pay a purge, the hearing officer, or judge, must find that the nonpaying spouse or parent has the present ability to pay the purge. Being found in civil contempt is not a criminal proceeding. If you are found in contempt, you are not being charged with a crime. Civil contempt is a method developed under the law to enforce compliance with a Court order. It is still the law of this country that an individual cannot be incarcerated for a debt, however, when it comes to child support, the law has carved out an exception by labeling child-support as an obligation to society and not a "debt" in the classic sense.
Child support obligations can be modified if there has been an involuntary, substantial, unanticipated and permanent change of circumstances since the Judge signed the Court order establishing the child support obligation. If you quit your job and figure, since you have no income, you cannot be required to pay your child support, you have made a huge error.
The reason is simple, the change in circumstances, quitting your job, was a voluntary act. A classic case for modification would be that your company went out of business and despite best efforts you have been unable to secure the same kind of work at the same pay rate. In today's economy, the judges and hearing officers are well-aware of the dismal economy and the chances of reducing your child-support, or for that matter, your alimony obligation is better than it has been in many years. However, you still must meet the general legal requirement. The difference now is that the judiciary is less skeptical as it was in prior years with a story of your dire straits.
If you have been served with a motion for contempt, take it seriously. If you decide to simply decide to not show up at the hearing after you were given notice of the hearing, the court can and usually does issue a writ of bodily attachment. In simple terms, this is an arrest warrant. If you get pulled over for an expired tag, that simple matter may spin out of control once the officer calls in your license.
On the other hand, if you are seeking payment of support after it has been ordered by a judge, a hearing can be set rather quickly before either a hearing officer or judge at which time the nonpaying parent or spouse had better prove that he or she has been paying to the best of their ability. Failing that, the nonpaying parent or spouse may very well be held in contempt and ordered to pay a purge which represents a portion of all unpaid support, or, go to jail for up to 179 days or until the purge is paid. But again, the judge must find that the nonpaying parent or spouse has the present ability to pay the purge. The "present ability" may be "found" in assets which may he sold such as a car, electronics, or jewelry. Ideally, the nonpaying spouse would simply have money in a bank in an amount sufficient to pay the unpaid support. In this case, the nonpaying spouse would be ordered to pay a purge to stay out of jail and the amount of the purge payment would be the money in the bank. If the payment were made immediately, the person would avoid jail as he or she paid the purge.
When faced with the possibility or reality of dealing with a child-support matter, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced child-support attorney. Mr. Hannan would be pleased to consult with you over the telephone or in-person regarding your particular situation.