In a perfect world, people would follow orders entered by the courts like child support orders. As many frustrated, divorced parents can attest, however, we do not live in a perfect world. Even after a court has calculated an appropriate child support amount and ordered an obligor-parent to pay, it may still be a challenge to collect the child support amount that is owed.
In many cases in which an obligor-parent fails or refuses to pay child support as ordered, the Florida Department of Revenue steps in and takes over the responsibility for collecting the delinquent child support amount owed. The Florida Department of Revenue has various means by which it can attempt to coerce a delinquent obligor to pay the amounts owed; if these fail, more aggressive actions can be taken.
(For purposes of this discussion, the “obligor” parent is the one obligated to pay child support while the “obligee” parent is the one to whom child support is owed.)
Title IV and Child Support
There are several different types of child support cases that can exist in Florida. Facts and circumstances unique to each situation will determine which category any particular case involving child support falls into. The categories include:
- Title IV-D cases, where the custodial parent who is supposed to be receiving child support requests and/or receives some assistance from the Florida Department of Revenue such as help locating the obligor parent, assistance in establishing paternity, or (most often) assistance in enforcing the child support order.
- Title IV-A cases, where the custodial parent receives public assistance benefits from the State. As a result, the State attempts to collect child support that is owed directly from the obligor parent.
- Title IV-E cases, where neither parent has custody of the child. Instead, the child is being cared for by a relative or is placed in the foster care system. The Florida Department of Revenue collects and enforces child support orders that are entered against the child’s parents.
- Non-Title IV-D cases involve situations where the custodial parent is to receive child support payments directly from the obligor parent. The hallmark of non-Title IV-D cases is that the State is not involved in collecting or enforcing the child support order. If the State is asked to become involved in enforcing the child support order, the case becomes a Title IV-D case.
The designation of “Title IV-D” comes from Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, which was signed into law on January 4, 1975. Under this Act, the various states were required to create a plan that designated one state agency that would be responsible for administering a new Child Support Enforcement program. As part of the program, each of the states’ agencies are required to work cooperatively with one another to locate absent obligor parents, establish paternity and accompanying child support obligations where appropriate, and collect child support obligations from obligor parents.
How Does the Florida Department of Revenue Normally Collect Child Support?
Normally, a Title IV-D child support order entered in Florida is accompanied by an income withholding order to the obligor parent’s employer directing that employer to deduct the ordered child support amount from that parent’s paycheck and remit it directly to the Florida Department of Revenue. The DOR will then distribute the child support payment to the obligee parent.
If the obligor parent is self-employed or receives income from some source other than the government (i.e., unemployment benefits) or traditional employment, then the obligor parent will be required to submit the ordered child support payments to the Florida Department of Revenue directly. The Department of Revenue would then distribute the payment to the obligee parent.
How Does the Florida Department of Revenue Enforce Title IV-D Orders?
When a Florida court enters a Title IV-D child support order (or when such an order from another state is properly registered in Florida or a non-Title IV-D case is referred to the Florida Department of Revenue for enforcement), the Florida Department of Revenue can take a variety of steps and measures to encourage the obligor parent to pay the child support amount owed. Although generally the Florida Department of Revenue (DOR) attempts to secure voluntary compliance with Title IV-D orders, the DOR can take aggressive measures if other methods at securing voluntary payment have failed and/or if it is believed such measures will not be fruitful.
Measures that the DOR has taken to enforce child support orders have included:
- Mailing notices to the obligor parent informing him or her of the past-due obligations (this is usually the first step at attempting to secure voluntary compliance);
- Arranging a face-to-face meeting between the DOR and the obligor parent to attempt and negotiate a plan to resolve the outstanding child support obligation;
- Suspending the obligor parent’s professional or business license(s), his or her hunting and/or fishing license, and/or the obligor parent’s driver’s license until he or she begins making payments and/or arranges to pay the past-due obligation;
- Denying the obligor parent’s request to renew his or her passport;
- Garnishing bank accounts belonging to the obligor parent;
- Sending withholding orders to the obligor parent’s employer directing that employer to withhold a certain amount from the obligor parent’s paycheck and remit that amount directly to the DOR;
- Intercepting federal or state income tax refunds or intercepting Florida lottery winnings (if those winnings exceed $600);
- Deducting amounts owed for child support from state benefits like worker’s compensation benefits or reemployment benefits;
- Placing a lien on any motor vehicle and/or boat owned by the obligor parent;
- Reporting the delinquent child support obligation on the obligor parent’s credit reports; and/or
- Filing a lawsuit against the obligor parent. This lawsuit could result in the obligor parent being found in contempt of court. Such a finding can result in the obligor parent being incarcerated in jail until he or she pays the outstanding amount or makes acceptable arrangements to pay the amount.
How Does Florida Collect a Child Support When Other States Are Involved?
In our increasingly-mobile society, it is very common (almost to be expected) that one or both divorced parents will relocate after a divorce has concluded. Title IV-D requires the states to cooperate with one another in locating obligor parents who have crossed state lines and/or moved from the county where a child support order was originally entered. As a result, the Florida Department of Revenue can assist obligee parents living in Florida in enforcing child support orders entered by courts in other states. Similarly, obligee parents who live outside of Florida can also receive assistance from the Florida Department of Revenue in enforcing a child support order.
An obligee parent whose child support order was entered in Florida can ask for the Florida Department of Revenue’s assistance in enforcing that order if the obligor parent lives in another state. Although information about the obligor parent’s whereabouts or employment can assist the Florida Department of Revenue in locating and enforcing the order, the obligee parent does not need to know this information before the DOR will assist. The DOR will work with the other state’s Title IV-D agency (usually that state’s department of revenue) to locate the obligor parent and secure payment.
If the child support order comes from another state but one of the parents resides in Florida, the obligee parent may choose to register the child support order in Florida and obtain assistance directly from the Florida Department of Revenue in enforcing the child support order. Registration of an out-of-state order in Florida allows the DOR to become directly involved in enforcing the order; however, obligee parents should know that before a Florida court will allow an out-of-state child support order to be registered in Florida the court will conduct a hearing and allow the obligor parent an opportunity to contest the registration. There are several defenses that the obligor spouse could raise:
- The issuing court did not have jurisdiction over him or her to enter the child support order. This may prove to be a defense if, for instance, the obligor spouse produces evidence showing that he or she never lived in the state which issued the child support order, did not have a relationship with the obligee parent while in that state, or did not have a child with the obligee parent while in the other state;
- The child support order was issued as a result of fraud committed by the obligee spouse. If the obligee spouse misrepresented some material fact in order to obtain the child support order in the other state’s court, this fact may keep a Florida court from allowing the child support order to be registered;
- The child support order has already been fulfilled or complied with. If the child has turned 18, if the child support order was for a specific amount and that amount has been paid in full, or if the obligor spouse has otherwise fully complied with the order and can demonstrate this, a Florida court may choose not to allow the out-of-state order to be registered;
- The child support order is the subject of a pending appeal. If the out-of-state order is not final but is being litigated back in the originating state, a Florida court will not likely allow the order to be registered.
A failure to have the out-of-state child support order registered in Florida does not necessarily invalidate the child support order. An obligor spouse will still remain obligated to pay the child support order even if Florida does not permit the order to be registered. The obligor spouse must obtain an order modifying or terminating the child support order from the state that issued the order.
Once a child support order is registered in Florida, the Florida Department of Revenue is able to take enforcement actions against the obligor spouse and/or enforce the order in a Florida court. In addition, registration will allow Florida courts to modify the child support order in the future.
Title IV-D child support orders are those in which the State of Florida is providing some assistance to the obligee parent in locating the obligor parent or enforcing a child support order. Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, signed into law in 1975, is where the term “Title IV-D” is derived. This section of the Social Security Act required the states to designate an agency to assist in enforcing child support orders and locating missing or absentee obligor parents. In Florida, the Department of Revenue has been designated as the state’s Title IV-D agency. This means that the Department of Revenue assists Florida residents as well as agencies from other states in enforcing child support orders and locating obligor parents.
In normal circumstances, the Department of Revenue will act as a disbursement agency for child support payments in Title IV-D cases. The obligor parent (or his or her employer) will submit child support payments to the Department of Revenue. The Department of Revenue will then, in turn disburse those payments to the obligee parent.
If the obligor parent fails to pay child support that is owed, the Department of Revenue has several options available to attempt to coerce payment from the obligor parent. While the Department of Revenue prefers in most cases that the obligor parent voluntarily complies with a child support order, the Department of Revenue can suspend professional and personal licenses, intercept tax refunds and lottery winnings, and initiate court proceedings to find the obligor parent in contempt if the obligor parent refuses to pay.
Where a Florida court has entered a child support order against an obligor parent living in another state, the Florida Department of Revenue can work with the other state’s Title IV-D agency to enforce the Florida support order. This process works in reverse where the obligor parent lives in Florida but the child support order is from out of state. Registration of an out-of-state order in Florida can give a Florida court the ability not only to enforce the out-of-state order but, in some cases, the ability to modify the order as well.