Child support cases, especially when you are facing contempt and possible jail time, are serious matters. There are many ways the courts can find you capable of making your child support payments, but there are other resources the law does not require you to deplete just to meet your support obligation. In one recent case from the Florida Panhandle, a father won a reversal of his contempt finding and jail sentence because, according to the First District Court of Appeal’s ruling, everything the trial court used to find that the man had willfully declined to pay his child support was either too small, had no evidence to support it, or was an asset the father was not legally obligated to liquidate just to pay his child support. The appeals court’s ruling is a useful reminder of the several ways that a parent who owes support can defend himself in a contempt case.
Resolving issues of back-owed child support can require creative problem-solving between the parties. Sometimes, that creativity may run afoul of the law if it impairs child’s legal right to receive support. One couple’s solution, which converted back-owed child support into a money judgment in favor of the wife and stripped the family court of jurisdiction over that judgment, did not violate the law, according to a recent 4th District Court of Appeal ruling. Because the agreement only removed the family court’s jurisdiction, and did not prevent the wife from pursuing the debt in civil court, the settlement did not contract away the child’s right to support.
The marriage of two attorneys ended in divorce in 1999. The agreed judgment between the parties required the husband to pay child support of $1,300 in 1999 and $1,500 starting in 2000, even though the applicable child support guidelines called for only $828 per month.
The husband fell behind on his support payments, resulting in several contempt proceedings and judgment enforcement motions. The couple eventually settled this dispute and the trial court entered an agreed order in 2008 that included a money judgment of $70,000 plus interest in favor of the wife. The family court also relinquished jurisdiction over that money judgment, except that the court retained the power to use its contempt powers if the husband did not stay current on the $828 per month of child support required by the guidelines.
This January, an Ohio father who was behind on his child support payments in an amount over $96,000 was ordered to stop having children. This type of judicial mandate, although rare, has been issued twice by Wisconsin in the past year.
A father of four was first indicted in August 2011 when he was in arrears of close to $80,000. In 2013, with his unpaid child support closing in on $100,000, Judge James Walther extended his probation by an additional five years and issued this unique mandate.
Judge Walther described the need for such an extreme controversial condition: “It’s your personal responsibility to pay for these kids.” The terms became part of his probation and are not intended to be permanent, but violation of such order could lead to jail time.
An appeal is already expected as his lawyer has been arguing that the judge overstepped his boundaries, and such an order is a violation of his constitutional right of privacy. A court date for the man to reappear is schedule for July, 2013.
Individuals with children going through a divorce must be prepared for their eventual child support order. The best advice is to hire a competent family law attorney at the onset, since the initial child support order acts as a theoretical anchor for future modifications.
In Florida, neither parent may waive child support by the noncustodial parent as child support is meant for the child and should not be bargained away by parents.
Some possible punishments for failure to satisfy child support payments:
Loss of driver’s license. Oftentimes, the revocation occurs without immediate notification to the nonpaying supporter.
Interception of tax refund. Florida can and has “intercepted” tax refunds to defaulting parents.
Liens and wages. Like taxes, Florida may attach liens or garnish wages in order to satisfy outstanding debt. These methods place the debt of the child support away from the child’s needs and onto the nonpaying parent. Not only does this method affect the nonpaying parent’s cash flow but can also harm their relationship with their employer.
Bank savings. In some rarer instances, the State of Florida has been able to reach certain bank funds, and freeze others.
Harm to credit score. Different orders, defaults, or delinquency notices all appear on credit reports and harm the offender’s credit score.
In November 2012, a fifty-year-old father of three was found and arrested in the Philippines and extradited to the US after having been featured on the Department of Health and Human Services list of “Most Wanted Deadbeats”.
In 1995, a county judge in Long Island, NY ordered the man to pay $750 per week (which was eventually increased to $995), to his ex-spouse for the support of their two children. The couple had been married for 10 years, and the man’s annual income from his own business was over $500,000.
In 1997, the man moved to Florida and married his second wife, with whom he had his third child. Shortly after, the couple divorced and the man was ordered to pay an additional $625 to his second wife for child support. This is when the man fled the country.
After having paid a total of $87,000 worth of child support payments, he stopped. Warrants for his arrest were issued in 2000 and 2002. To evade payments and prosecution, he fled the country. He was located in Thailand before being arrested in the Philippines.
After being brought back to the US, the amount of child support in arrears, plus penalties and fees owed by the man, totaled over $1.2 million. Attorney Loretta Lynch described his character when she said in a statement: “Neither court orders nor the familial bond meant anything to him as he fled to avoid his obligations.” He could see a four year sentence for such support evasion, however, according to his first wife, he should be a free man to be able to work off his debt, which he is fully responsible to pay.
Florida Child Support Info
It is most advisable to contact an experienced family law attorney to assist you in calculating and submitting your financial information that will be the basis of your child support payments. Child support payments can be determined during your divorce action or possibly on a later date. Child support can also be modified due to changes in either spouses’ living situation. Courts will generally base child support on annual income, however they can take into consideration many other factors: including health costs, custody, cost of living, etc. Payments may be made weekly, biweekly, or bimonthly.
Either spouse can make a motion to court to adjust their child support for good cause. Enforcement of payments is performed by the Florida Department of Revenue. Failure to pay can lead to liens, suspension of vehicle or business licenses, harm to one’s credit score, or even prosecution.
A Martin County father was recently placed on probation after pleading no contest to violating a little-known Florida law designed to ensure parents meet their child support obligations. According to a Martin County Court Clerk, the 34-year-old father was the first person in the county arrested under the law established to punish allegedly deadbeat parents. In addition to sentencing him to five years of probation, Circuit Judge William Roby also ordered the man to regularly pay the $550 per month in child support for his two children that was previously ordered by a family court judge and $69,542.88 in back child support and interest that has accumulated throughout his years of non-payment. Additionally, Judge Roby ordered him to perform 25 hours per week of community service throughout the period of his probation, pay $415 in court costs, and promptly notify the court of any changes in his employment status.
The case against this individual was filed after his ex-wife told local authorities about the little-known law. She reportedly grew weary of the man’s failure to pay his family court ordered child support. Instead, she produced contempt of court orders against him and asked Martin County authorities to prosecute her ex-husband using the third-degree felony statute. Apparently, only two other individuals in Florida have faced the same charge during the last decade.
The man in this case reportedly told Judge Roby he failed to pay his support obligations because he could no longer afford the payments due to a bad economy and the loss of his business. According to this father, his previous efforts to reduce the child support payments were denied. Assistant State Attorney Erin Kirkwood responded to these claims by stating a family court determined the man was able, but unwilling to meet his child support obligations. Although she attended the hearing, his ex-wife reportedly made no comments.
In the State of Florida, parents must provide financial support for their children. A child support award is determined using established statutory guidelines that take into account the costs of medical care, dental care, day care, and the amount of time each parent spends with a child pursuant to a child’s time sharing plan. If a parent voluntarily becomes unemployed or under-employed, a family court may choose to make an award of child support based on imputed income. Imputed income is normally established by examining a parent’s past employment record, job qualifications, and the local pay rate where the paying parent resides.
Last month, a Hillsborough County Circuit judge ordered the arrest of a successful Tampa area businessman, after he was found guilty of five counts of criminal contempt of court for failure to pay his child support and alimony obligations. The man reportedly failed to attend the contempt hearing where Judge Caroline Tesche sentenced him to almost six months in jail for repeatedly refusing to pay more than $6 million in alimony and child support.
The man’s ex-wife initiated divorce proceedings in 2009 and the former couple reached a final settlement agreement in July 2011. Although the couple has a 12-year-old son together, she stated her former husband has not supported them for several years. According to her attorney, the man now owes his ex-wife $10 million.
The man in this case is reportedly a decorated Vietnam veteran, a former president of a company, and previously ran a building materials business which allegedly reported profits of more than $4 million per month at its height. At one point, he reportedly owned a mansion and regularly drove several high end sports cars. Now, the man claims he is financially insolvent. In fact, he allegedly filed for bankruptcy just three days prior to the contempt hearing. Still, Judge Tesche believes the father has the ability to pay.
This man reportedly owns stock in several large companies as well as other assets. His attorney has argued that the man’s hands are tied as the former couple’s settlement agreement prohibits him from selling his stock in order to generate cash. He also claims the man is unable to liquidate any of his assets and lives off of loans and a small monthly Department of Veterans Affairs disability check.
According to the former wife, her ex-husband has the money and is merely hiding millions of dollars in assets from her. In November 2010, he spent more than two weeks in jail for refusing to produce documents during the couple’s divorce proceedings. When he filed for bankruptcy, the man reportedly estimated his assets as being in the range of $100 to $500 million and his liabilities at no more than $50 million. To further complicate the case, the Internal Revenue Service is also allegedly performing a criminal investigation into his affairs. His attorney has stated he is not aware of the man’s current location.
Each year many Florida residents find themselves in the midst of a less than amicable divorce. Understandably, the host of emotions associated with the end of a marriage can be overwhelming. The financial damage can oftentimes make a bad situation even worse. If you are contemplating divorce, you need an experienced family law attorney to help you protect your financial interests.
You may be required to hire a Fort Lauderdale divorce lawyer to enforce your child support award through civil contempt. Civil contempt sanctions are utilized by the marital and family law court to compel compliance with a court order and used to compensate the moving party for losses sustained by the contemnor’s willful failure to comply with a divorce court order or judgment that requires him or her to pay child support.
One of the sanctions that a Fort Lauderdale divorce attorney may request is to revoke a delinquent obligors drivers license and motor vehicle registration as a sanction in order to compel payment of your child support. If the court orders incarceration, a coercive fine or any other coercive sanction for failing to pay child support, it is required that conditions be set to purge the contempt, based upon the obligors present ability to pay or comply. Accordingly, the sanction of a driver’s license suspension requires the Florida marital and family law court to find a present ability to pay any purge amount set by the court.
In Anderson v. Department of Revenue, the Fourth District Court of Appeals reversed a Broward County, Florida divorce court decision holding an indigent father in contempt of court for his failure to pay child support and for setting a purge of $5,000.00. Judge Alfred J. Horowitz, a divorce judge in Fort Lauderdale, Florida ordered Mr. Anderson to pay $5,000 in child support arrears within 48 hours to avoid jail time. Mr. Anderson timely appealed Judge Horowitz’s order to the Fourth District Court of Appeals because he was indigent; and therefore, would not be able to make the immediate $5,000 payment. The trial court determined that Mr. Anderson was indigent purposes of his appeal.
Mr. Anderson was in child support arrears over $50,000. Even though he owed a substantial amount of money, the Fourth District Court of Appeals held that the trial court committed reversible error in finding Mr. Anderson in contempt of court and thereafter determining that he was indigent for the purposes of the appeal. The Court reasoned that the finding of indigent status evidenced an inability to pay the $5,000.00 purge.
When a party is requesting that a court find an obligor in indirect civil contempt of court, incarceration cannot be used as a means to seek compliance with the court order when the contemnor does not have the present ability to purge himself of contempt. The contemnor must have the key to the jailhouse door.