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Child Support: Willful Failure to Pay Can Result in Felony Charge

Florida family law judges have a number of remedies available to enforce child support orders against persons with support duties. State revenue officials, too, have a wide array of enforcement tools at their disposal, including delinquency notices, Florida driver's license suspension, holds on bank and other financial accounts, property liens, wage garnishment, the taking of tax refunds, and civil and criminal contempt referral.

Most child support issues are resolved without an arrest or criminal prosecution. The action taken recently by a Palm City mother, though, has put a spotlight on a seldom-used state law that makes failure to pay child support a felony in certain instances.

That law is known as Florida Statute 827.06. It provides that willful failure to pay ordered dependent support that is one year in arrears and in an amount of at least $5,000 can result in the criminal prosecution of a non-payer who has the financial ability to pay. Violation resulting in a conviction is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

That is what the Palm Beach woman's former spouse is presently facing, following his recent arrest in Martin County for child support-related debt that exceeds $42,000.

"It just never should have come to this," the woman said, noting that county sheriff's officials took action after a judge had already ordered her ex to pay support five times.

The man is currently free on bond and has entered a not guilty plea, claiming that he does not have the ability to pay.

A state attorney involved with the case says that, while his office will vigorously prosecute individuals who fail to pay court-ordered support, Statute 827.06 is "rarely used" in the process. "It may be that people aren't aware of the law," he said.

Scott Bassett, a professor at Stetson College of Law, says that, "The civil remedies that are available to family court judges, if properly implemented, should be enough to convince most parents to pay the support they owe."

An experienced family law attorney can answer questions concerning child support and provide diligent representation in a support matter.

Related Resource: Treasure Coast Palm, "Palm City mom pushes for arrest of parents who are able but don't pay child support" July 4, 2011

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