If Your License is suspended for Child Support Obligations, What Can You Do?
Florida law allows one’s driver’s license to be suspended when they fail to meet their support obligation. If your license is suspended as a result of child support obligations that are not satisfied, you should understand the law. If one truly cannot pay their obligation because they simply do not have the financial resources to do so, your license cannot be suspended, but you must act promptly.
Your License Can Be Suspended for Child Support Failures
The Florida Dept. of Revenue or an Obligee can request the Florida Dept. of Motor Vehicles to suspend the license of an Obligor that has failed to meet his or her child support obligation. Such frequently results from income issues, such as unemployment. To understand the process, one must understand what civil contempt is. In short, civil contempt, as it relates to child support, is one’s failure to pay one’s child support obligation in a timely manner when one has the ability to do so. If you truly cannot meet your obligation, your license cannot be suspended if you act promptly in contesting the impending suspension. If you fail to act promptly and contest the suspension, but can prove your inability to pay, your license must be reinstated. Before your license can be suspended for child support failure’s, you must be notified by mail 20 days prior to the planned suspension by mail. There is a form letter that is mailed to an Obligee advising that his or her license will be suspended on a date certain. It is critical that if and when this letter is received that one act promptly (failure to do so will result in a suspension).
An Obligor Must Have the Present Ability to Pay to Find Contempt
The law allows a legal presumption that one has the ability to pay his or her child support obligation based on the last order requiring child support to be paid. There are two important cases that have shaped the law in this area. The cases are Bowman v. Bowman and Porush v. Porush. The Bowen case concerned placing an individual in jail based on the ground that the Obligor failed to pay a purge amount on his child support. Here, the court distinguished between criminal contempt and civil contempt in finding that the Defendant was improperly incarcerated for a crime for wrongfully using his resources for a purpose other than paying his court ordered support payments and without regard to his ability to purge himself of the contempt. The basic purpose of a contempt proceeding in a civil context (civil contempt) is to compel the individual to perform an act that he or she has the ability to perform. However, a key purpose of a criminal contempt is punishment. Most litigation over a failure to pay child support is civil, but on occasion, criminal charges are brought. The author has found that in North Florida, family law judges are reluctant to allow a Defendant to be found in criminal contempt. A problem that the author sees with enforcement of child support law is that numerous people get arrested and placed in jail for child support failures in addition to having their driver’s license (and professional licenses) suspended, but they quite apparently do not have the present ability to pay the support and are just sitting in jail with no way out without legal help. A claim of civil contempt does not entitle one to free legal representation if they cannot afford it and most Defendants that are in jail do not understand the law well enough to prove that they do not have the current ability to pay, so they sit in jail unnecessarily. The author has found that many attorneys that deal with family law do not completely understand the law as it relates to the standard applied to civil contempt.
Suspending an Obligor’s License is Tantamount to Contempt
The Porush case concerns a driver’s license suspension as well as the cancellation of the Defendant’s vehicle registration for failure to pay support. Although the law allows for a driver’s license, registration, and professional licenses to be suspended for failure to pay support, the Porush case states that suspending one’s driver’s license is tantamount to contempt. Therefore, the court must find that the Defendant has the present ability to pay to justify the suspension. The principles in the Porush case prevent the Florida Department of Revenue from suspending your license or cancelling your registration without a finding that you have the present ability to pay a purge amount.
Take Action Before a Suspension
You are required to be notified prior to the suspension of your license. A letter is sent by regular first class mail notifying an Obligor that his or her license will be suspended and the Obligor must contest the suspension within 20 days from the date of the letter. The author believes that many people do not receive the notice due to their failure to notify the Department of Revenue of their current address because they are not diligent in checking their mail, and because the mail gets misplaced or misdelivered. The fact that the law allows the letter to be sent without any proof that it was actually received results in mistrust of the system by Obligors who swear that they were never notified. If one does receive a Notice of Impending Suspension, they should act immediately to contest the suspension and send a notice contesting the suspension to the Florida Department of Revenue right away. If the notice is not received within 20 days from the date of the letter (not the date the letter was received), the Obligor will have his or her license and registration suspended. The author recommends sending the notice, so you receive a return receipt when delivered. Another option is to contact the Florida Department of Revenue, Child Support Enforcement and work out a payment plan. The author believes that most people cannot afford the proposed payment plans that he has been advised about. The best way to protect yourself from a license suspension and the consequences that come with it if you simply cannot afford to pay your child support obligation is to contact an experienced family law attorney who can explore your options, including possibly filing for a modification.
Contact our North Florida Office to Learn More
Our Jacksonville office can answer any questions that you may have about child support. To schedule a consultation with an experienced family law lawyer, Call (904) 685-1200 today. Law Office of David M. Goldman, PLLC, 4115 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville, Florida 32207. Telephone (904) 685-1200.
About the author
Neil Weinreb is a licensed Florida attorney who has been practicing family law for over 15 years in North Florida. Mr. Weinreb works for the Law Office of David M. Goldman in Jacksonville, Florida. Mr. Weinreb has worked as an adjunct professor teaching law to paralegal students at Jones College in Jacksonville, Florida. You can contact Mr. Weinreb at the Law Office of David M. Goldman for a free initial consultation.