Child support payments granted by a judge are considered a court order, and when an obligated parent fails to make the payments they are considered in contempt of court. A judge can then grant a contempt order stating the exact amount of unpaid child support arrearages.
A Florida parent has several options available to them in order to enforce the contempt of court judgment through avenues such as delinquency notices, driver license suspension, and property liens as a way to force the obligated parent to pay. One Florida mother thought that the civil remedies simply were not enough and found a little used statute that provides criminal sanctions for willful failure to pay child support.
The frustrated mother was granted $600 a month to be paid by her ex-husband for the care and maintenance of their two young children, but claimed that over $42,000 of it went unpaid. After seeking several contempt of court orders and submitting complaints to the family law court, the mother determined that there had to be another way.
After doing some research of her own, the woman found an almost forgotten statute, Florida Statute 827.06 which states that "any person who willfully fails to provide support which he or she has the ability to provide to a child or a spouse whom the person knows he or she is legally obligated to support, commits a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of one-year in county jail.
The statute goes further to include a felony charge for an amount that exceeds $5,000 or for multiple violation of the statute. According to one state representative, the statute was probably passed after complaints that judges were not taking enough action.
Although the statute is little used, the Florida mom was heard by Palm City prosecutors and the father of her children was arrested for willfully failing to pay child support when he had the means to do so. In our next post, the father shares his side of the story and what parents should do if they find themselves unable to pay.
Source: TC Palm, "Palm City mom pushes for arrest of parents who are able but don't pay child support," Melissa E. Holsman, 4 July 2011