Couple’s Agreement Didn’t Contract Away Child’s Right to Receive Support, Survives Wife’s Challenge

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.

Three years later, the wife asked the family court to enforce the money judgment. The husband asked for dismissal, arguing that he was current on his $828 per month obligation subject to contempt punishment, so the family court lacked jurisdiction over the judgment. The wife, in turn, claimed that the provision violated public policy as it impeded a child’s right to receive support. The trial court agreed, finding the relinquishment of jurisdiction provision contrary to the best interests of the couple’s child, and rejected the husband’s motion.

The 4th DCA, however, sided with the husband. The crux of the wife’s argument was that the provision in the agreed order relinquishing the family court’s jurisdiction over the judgment functionally amounted to contracting away a child’s right to receive support, which is forbidden by law. The appeals court, however, explained that the agreed order had not extinguished the wife’s right to seek enforcement of the support debt, it just changed how she must go about it. Nothing in the agreed order prevented the wife from opening a new collection action in civil court, either in Florida or in New York (where the husband resided,) the court pointed out. Because a means still existing for recovering the child support debt, the settlement and agreed order were permissible.

Working out mutually agreeable settlements on divorce and child support matters often necessitates a spirit of cooperation and creativity. It also, though, requires each party to ensure he or she fully understand what the terms of the agreement are, and what implications those terms may hold. For exceptional advice about working out an agreement on your child support issues, consult the South Florida family law attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. They are committed to helping Fort Lauderdale and Miami-Dade families reach fair and appropriate agreements to their child support disputes, and assisting you in litigating your dispute if agreement proves impossible. Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Terms of Settlement Agreement Block Husband’s Effort to Obtain Statutory Child Support Modification, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 20, 2013
Court Orders Husband to Pay Wife’s Attorney’s Fees in Child Support Battle, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Sept. 17, 2013