How to Enforce Child Support in Florida

Are you a Florida parent seeking to establish a child support order or trying to enforce one? Read on to gain comprehensive insights into these critical aspects of family law.

How to establish child support in Florida

Child support is not automatic in Florida; it has to be legally established. The procedures can appear daunting, especially if you're unfamiliar with the legal processes. But understanding these steps can ease your journey.

With an existing family court case

If you already have an existing family court case, like a divorce or paternity case, you can request the establishment of child support within that case. The Florida courts usually include the matter of child support in these cases. You must file a Supplemental Petition to Modify Child Support disclosing your financial affidavit and child support guidelines.

The court looks at several factors: how much money each parent makes, healthcare and childcare costs, and how much time a child spends with each parent. The court then issues a legally binding child support order. Any modifications to the order must be approved by the court first; informal agreements between parents are not enforceable.

Without an existing family court case

If there is no existing family court case, establishing child support involves opening a new child support case with the Florida Department of Revenue or filing directly with the court. 

To initiate a new case, you will need to provide information and documents about your financial situation and the child's needs. A filing fee must be paid, the exact amount of which varies by Florida county.

Once the case is filed, the other parent will be served with legal documents. They have a specific amount of time to respond to these documents.

Just like with an existing case, the court will consider each adult’s income, the child's healthcare and childcare costs, and the amount of time the child spends with each parent. Until a court order is established, no legal obligation for child support exists. Hence, it's always advisable to seek legal counsel to understand your rights and responsibilities.

How do courts determine child support rates?

Child support rates in Florida are primarily determined by the Florida Child Support Guidelines, which are bound by statute. The guidelines consider several factors, as we’ve already explored: each parent’s income, the costs of raising and caring for the child, the number of overnights the child spends with each parent. The intent is to maintain, as closely as possible, the standard of living the child would have had if the parents had stayed together.

Courts have limited flexibility when determining child support rates. Why? The Florida Child Support Guidelines created a standard that prevents arbitrary decisions about money for child support. 

Income shares model

The guidelines are based on an income shares model. They reflect the belief that children should receive the same income benefit they would have enjoyed if their parents had stayed together. 

The income shares model reduces the risk of subjective assessments. It ensures a consistent approach across cases. Any deviation from the guidelines must be justified.

How can Florida courts enforce a child support order?

Once a child support order is in place, it’s legally binding. If a parent fails to comply, the Florida courts have several tools at their disposal to enforce it. These include income withholding (wage garnishment) of the payor, license suspension (driver's license or professional licenses), and even imprisonment.

What happens if a parent refuses to pay child support?

If a noncustodial parent refuses to pay child support in Florida, the other parent has several options for child support enforcement. They could file a motion for civil contempt, which could lead to penalties such as fines, jail time, or both. The court may enforce wage garnishment or seize the non-paying parent’s bank accounts. In extreme cases, the Department of Revenue may intercept federal tax refunds or deny passport applications until the arrearages have been taken care of.

If you're dealing with child support arrears and want help from a team of caring, experienced professionals, we invite you to schedule a free 15-minute call with Hello Divorce. 

Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.