Florida Court Upholds Decision Not to Impose Immediate Child Support Obligation Against Father Facing Prison

When it comes to child support cases, one of the most important issues can be whether or not the law allows the court to impute additional income to the obligor parent for the purposes of calculating his support amount. One of the keys to imputing income is proving that the obligor is voluntarily underemployed or unemployed. In a potentially important new decision from the First District Court of Appeal, that court broke with the Fourth District Court of Appeal and decided that a judge could decline to enter an order of support when the obligor parent was soon to enter prison for two years.

This case was one that asked the courts to address a rare but not completely unique set of circumstances. The Florida Department of Revenue filed what’s known as a “proposed administrative support order” that, if entered, would have placed a Florida father under an obligation to pay child support of $840 per month, plus back-owed support.

At the administrative hearing for his case, the father divulged that he was, at the time of the hearing, facing criminal charges and had worked out a deal with the prosecution. That plea agreement called for the father to plead guilty to vehicular manslaughter and serve a two-year prison sentence. The father made an argument that, since he would be incarcerated for the next two years, he would have no income and no ability to pay child support. The Administrative Law Judge accepted this argument and declined to issue an order for an initial support obligation.

The Department of Revenue appealed this decision, pointing out that the Fourth District had already faced this issue and ruled that a parent’s impending incarceration wasn’t a valid basis to refuse to set an order of child support.

Despite what the Fourth District had ruled, the First District decided this case contrastingly, upholding the ALJ’s decision. The Fourth District ruled to uphold the decision in favor of the father because, it determined, the Florida Statutes and Florida Supreme Court caselaw do not require the imputation of income in this situation. Florida statutory law allows courts to impute income to an obligor parent above and beyond what that parent actually makes, but the court has to make a determination that the parent’s underemployment or unemployment is voluntary. The Fourth District’s decision, which the First District did not follow, stated that when an obligor parent chooses to commit a criminal act, that choice is the necessary voluntary act that triggers a court’s ability to impute income.

One important case on the issue of an obligor parent going to jail was the Florida Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Department of Revenue v. Jackson. However, that case involved a request for a child support modification, rather than an initial award of support as in this father’s case. Based upon these distinctions, the First District concluded that the decision regarding whether or not to impute income was one within the judge’s discretion, and the ALJ in this father’s case did not abuse his discretion in refusing to enter an initial order of support.

The First District’s decision in this case establishes a direct conflict with the Fourth District’s decision, which creates a possibility that the Florida Supreme Court will step in to resolve the conflict. In the meantime, South Florida parents in places like Broward County, Palm Beach County, and much of the Treasure Coast area should be aware that the Fourth District’s decision that was unfavorable to the obligor parent remains applicable in those counties, so a parent seeking support in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, or Port St. Lucie can still pursue their case, even if the obligor parent is heading to jail in the immediate future.

When it comes to your child support case, it is essential to give yourself a good chance of achieving a fair outcome. The South Florida child support attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have handled many child support cases for many years and have extensive experience in helping parents achieve workable solutions. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

When You Can Reopen Your Florida Child Support Case, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Jan. 19, 2017

Calculating Child Support in Florida When a Parent Has Been Recently Fired or Laid Off, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 27, 2016

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