Child Support Enforcement
- Courts Information and Resource Centers: (727) 582-7200.
(for general information about court procedures for litigants who do not have attorneys).
- Department of Revenue: (800) 622-5437 (Main number).
- Florida State Disbursement Unit (FLSDU): (877) 769-0251
(Tallahassee – voice response).
- Motion form & Notice of Hearing before the ST PETERSBURG Child Support Hearing Officer
- Supplemental Petitions/Non-Jury Trial Instructions before the ST PETERSBURG Child Support Hearing Officer
The Child Support Hearing Officer Program is a program of the Family Law Division of the Administrative Office of the Courts, Sixth Judicial Circuit.
There are two full-time hearing officers and one part-time hearing officer in Pinellas County, and one full-time hearing officer in Pasco County. All cases filed by the Department of Revenue are heard by a hearing officer. All hearing officers have authority under Fla. Fam. L. Rs. P. 12.491 and 12.615 to conduct hearings, evaluate evidence, and render findings of fact, and then make conclusions of law and recommendations which are sent to a circuit judge in the form of an order. Parties have ten days from the date of the order to file a “Motion to Vacate” the hearing officer’s recommended order.
- A typical case that might go before a hearing officer is when a person is ordered by the court to pay child support but has failed to pay. This type of case is usually initiated when the Department of Revenue files a legal paper called a “Motion for Contempt.” In that type of case, the hearing officer considers whether the person “willfully” failed to pay support as ordered. A person who willfully fails to pay child support is subject to a wide range of sanctions – his/her driver’s license/vehicle registration can be suspended; he/she may be ordered to pay a fine; money in his/her bank account can be seized, as well as any income tax refund to which he/she may be entitled; he/she can also go to jail, and even prison.
- Another kind of case that a hearing officer might hear is a paternity case. If you have been sued in a paternity case, the court must determine two things. First, the court must determine the identity of the father. Second, once the identity of the father is legally determined, the court must determine the amount of child support the father should pay. In many cases, a Respondent may already know whether he is the father of the child. If that is the case, the Respondent will have an opportunity to enter into a stipulation with the Department of Revenue. If the Respondent has some question about whether he is the father, he may request genetic/DNA testing. Present-day genetic/DNA testing is able to accurately determine, typically by a probability of 99%, if the Respondent is the father. If the Respondent requests a genetic/DNA test, and the test reveals that the Respondent is the father, he may be responsible for child support dating back to a period of up to two years. A Respondent should not ask for a genetic/DNA test simply to delay child support payments because he will be responsible for paying back child support if the test results show that he is the father.
- A third kind of case heard by the hearing officers is when a married couple is separated and the Department of Revenue has filed a Petition for Support. The parent who does not have the children living with them, by law, must pay child support if they are able to pay.
- Another case that might be heard by a hearing officer is based on a “Petition for Modification.” This is when one party has requested a change in the amount of child support that is currently ordered. If the parent who is paying child support has requested a modification in order to pay less child support, he/she must typically show that a significant, unexpected, permanent change of circumstances has occurred since the last order.
Child support in Florida is determined by the Child Support Guidelines which have been adopted by the Florida Legislature. These guidelines are found in the Florida Statutes, at section 61.30, and are effective throughout the State. Unless there are unusual circumstances, a parent who must pay child support in Jacksonville will pay the same amount as a parent with similar income in St. Petersburg or Miami.
How do the guidelines work? First, the court must determine the combined income of the mother and father. For example, let’s say that you and the other parent have one child together and that each of you earns $1,000 a month after taxes. The combined income, therefore, is $2,000 per month. To determine the amount of child support that you should pay, the court looks at the guidelines and finds $2,000 on the chart, and then looks at how much the legislature says your one child needs for support. That amount is $442. Since you earn $1,000, which is one half of the combined income, you must pay one half of $442, or $221. This was a simple example; in most cases, you and the other parent are not going to make exactly the same amount, so your share may be 30%, 40%, or 60%, or any other percentage, depending on your income. In addition, there are numerous deductions and offsets which may apply in a particular case.
The amount the legislature says that your child needs may be adjusted by the court to include day care expenses. The law says that 75 percent of the daycare expense should be added to the guideline amount. Also, if one parent provides health insurance for the child, the amount is added to the guideline amount. Each party is responsible for their percentage share of these expenses.
If either you or the other parent are not earning income but are physically able to work, the court may “impute” income to you for purposes of calculating the amount of child support you owe. This means that the calculations will be made based on the amount you could reasonably be expected to earn if you did work.
There are very few times when the court will make exceptions to the amounts set in the Child Support Guidelines. The court may depart from the guidelines in some cases depending on the circumstances. Keep in mind, however, that child support is based on the income of the parents, and does not take into account any personal debt. Your first and foremost obligation is to pay child support. The State of Florida considers child support a priority. If you do not pay your child support, your driver’s license can be suspended. You may be ordered to pay a fine. Money in your bank account can be seized, as well as any income tax refund to which you may be entitled. You can also go to jail, and even prison.
If you are ordered to pay child support, you should read your court order very carefully. The order is usually quite long and contains many provisions that may affect you later. For example, you will probably be required to notify the Clerk of the Court and the Department of Revenue if you change your address. If you fail to do so, any notices of future hearings may be sent to your old address. If you are not there to receive it, you will not know about the hearing. The hearing may be conducted in your absence, and any number of things may happen. An arrest warrant may even be issued for your failure to appear.
If you represent yourself in one of these cases, you are responsible for knowing all of the rules and procedures that lawyers are required to know. If you do not follow the rules, you may not get what you are asking for in your case. It is always wise to consult with or hire a lawyer for any legal matter. If you still choose to represent yourself, you must do just that. You cannot have your mother, father, boyfriend, girlfriend, sister, or any other person call the court on your behalf. You must make all communications yourself, and appear at all hearings.