Child support exists to help custodial parents pay for the costs of raising their child. Many noncustodial parents are ordered to make regular child support payments by the courts. However, a person may not be able to afford the same amount of child support they could when their order was first made due to various life changes. There are certain actions a parent can take when this happens to get their child support order restructured to fit into their current budget. Failing to make child support payments could result in severe consequences.
The Importance of Child Support
For some parents, being ordered to make child support payments may feel like a punishment. They may choose to skip out on their payments because they want to spite their ex who is now the custodial parent of their child. However, it is usually the child who suffers in the end. Child support payments are intended to help maintain a child’s standard of living and ensure their needs are taken care of. The money a custodial parent receives through child support is often used for necessities such as:
- Shelter for the child, including paying for the mortgage or rent and utilities in the child’s main living space
- Feeding the child
- Paying for medical care for the child, such as doctor’s appointments, prescription medication, glasses, and dental care
- School-related expenses such as textbooks, stationery, various supplies, clothing, and field trips
- The expenses related to extracurricular activities, such as being part of a sports team, going to camp, etc.
Note that child support payments are not intended to be used for the custodial parent’s personal expenses that do not relate to their child.
The Consequences of Missed Payments
Missing child support payments can result in consequences and stress for the parent ordered to pay. When a parent misses payments, the custodial parent can involve the Florida Department of Revenue and their Child Support Enforcement team. This group is capable of looking into the noncustodial parent’s financial information to determine whether they have the money to make payments. They can also contact the noncustodial parent to attempt to secure payment from them.
If they are unsuccessful, they can file for a hearing to take place through the Department of Revenue. The hearing will result in the order being enforced or modified, but consequences can be assigned as well.
Custodial parents are also capable of filing civil cases against noncustodial parents who miss child support payments. They will be responsible for proving that payments are not being made and that there is an existing child support order.
Penalties for Missing Payments
A noncustodial parent who violates an existing child support order could be found to be in contempt of court. Some examples of penalties the court can enact to collect the money include:
- Fining the noncustodial parent
- Suspending the noncustodial parent’s driver’s license
- Suspending their passport
- Suspending various professional licenses, preventing them from working
- Seize their bank accounts and use the money to make up missed payments
- Seize their tax refunds
- Place liens on their various assets such as homes and vehicles
- Seize part of their paychecks
- Withhold payments from workers’ compensation
- Report missed payments to various credit bureaus, impacting the noncustodial parent’s credit score
- Require the noncustodial parent to pay all of the legal fees associated with seeking the missed payments for the custodial parent
- Require the noncustodial parent to go to prison for up to a full year
Can Child Support Payments Be Modified?
Existing child support orders can be modified if the noncustodial parent is no longer capable of making the payments outlined in the order. The process can be initiated by the noncustodial parent filing a petition with their local court. The petition should include the case number, division, court, and current address of the person filing.
In the petition, the noncustodial parent will need to explain what change has made it so they can no longer make the child support payments required in the initial order. The changes will need to be considered “substantial” by the courts in order for any changes to be made. Some examples of changes that are often considered substantial include:
- Losing a job involuntarily due to lay-offs, a branch closure, etc.
- An involuntary reduction in wages caused by a demotion, financial issues at the company, etc.
- Being unable to work due to health-related issues such as a prolonged hospitalization
- Changes made to a custody order that gives the noncustodial parent more time with the child, lessening the need for child support payments to the custodial parent
- Changes in expenses, such as raised rent, raised utilities, medical bills, student loan payments, etc.
- The custodial parent has received a raise, making the child support payments less necessary
Once the petition is filed, the custodial parent is given 20 days to file an answer. The answer may say they agree with the requested changes or list reasons they believe the changes should not take place. The judge will then set a hearing, and the noncustodial parent will be able to prove their case. Financial records, letters from employers or doctors, and pay stubs can be helpful in proving substantial changes.
Anyone who is struggling to make their child support payments should consider petitioning the court before allowing themselves to fall behind. Falling behind on payments can make it very difficult to catch up. There is a fee to file a petition, but the cost is less severe than the potential penalties of missing many payments.
We Can Help You
If you are having a hard time making your child support payments and need to petition the courts for a modification to your child support order, contact the Law Office of Russell S. Hershkowitz, LLC today. We have the experience and legal knowledge to get you in the position to deal with the child support issues you are facing. Our lawyer has helped many clients with their child support cases and can ensure your payments are being calculated properly and fairly. Contact us today at (407) 753-4111 or through our online form to schedule a consultation.