Florida Law on Back Child Support Arrears

By Beverly Bird - Updated January 29, 2018
Child support agreement on an office table.

The Florida Department of Revenue stands by ready to help parents with the collection of child support, both past due and current. If you’re receiving public assistance, the Florida DOR automatically steps in to oversee your child support account. Otherwise, you can voluntarily sign up to receive the state's help with monitoring and enforcement of payments.

Tip

Florida is a particularly aggressive state when it comes to collecting past due child support from noncustodial parents.

Collection of Arrears

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 doesn’t pay up or agree to payment arrangements, the court can send him to jail for up to 179 days under Florida law, or until he pays an amount set by the judge.

In addition to jail time, Florida law allows for a few more penalties until support is paid. These are typically implemented by the DOR.

  • Many states authorize the suspension of driver’s licenses for child support arrears. Florida will not only take your ex’s license – the state will take her vehicle registration and license plate, too. She has 20 days to pay her arrears after she receives notice from the DOR that her driving privileges are in jeopardy. 
  • A noncustodial parent with support arrears also risks losing her occupational, business, fishing or hunting licenses if she doesn't request a hearing to try to resolve the situation within 30 days of receiving notice from the DOR. 
  • Federal law authorizes all states to intercept tax refunds for unpaid child support. 
  • Florida law allows interception of lottery winnings of $600 or more when a noncustodial parent owes back child support. 
  • If the court issues a judgment for your ex’s support arrears, you can use it to seize the funds in her bank accounts up to the amount she owes.

Judgments for Arrears

A judgment against your ex is a powerful collection tool. If you’re collecting support through state services, you won't have to ask the court for a judgment on your own. The DOR will take care of it for you and it's pretty much automatic, happening by operation of law_._ This means the clerk of the court can enter the judgment without first asking a judge if your ex falls behind. As soon as the judgment is in place, interest begins building up on the balance he owes.

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 this lifetime.

Possible Defenses

A noncustodial parent can raise certain defenses against collection of past due support if a lot of time has passed. Florida law allows him to try to prove a legal concept called "laches" – you waited so long to do anything to try to collect from him that he should no longer be held responsible. He might also claim something called "equitable estoppel_,"_ alleging that you had an informal agreement not to pursue him for child support arrears, maybe because he did you a favor and cosigned on your car loan or gave you money toward your mortgage instead.

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.

About the Author

Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.

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