What if I Can't Pay My Child Support?

Authored By: Florida Justice Technology Center


What if I can't pay my child support?

The only way to have your child support payment suspended or modified (“changed”) is by order of a judge.  You must file a petition asking the court to change your payment.  You can only have your payment changed if you (1) have had a substantial change in circumstances and (2) if it is in the child(ren)’s best interest.

Can I just stop paying?

No.  You should not just stop paying.  You can have your driver’s license suspended, your tax refund taken, late payments reported to credit agencies, and your pay garnished (money can be taken out of your paycheck directly from your employer).  Even if you cannot pay the full amount, pay what you can to show the court that you are doing your best.  If you fail to pay the caretaker for your children, s/he can ask the court to hold you in contempt and you will have to explain to the judge why you did not pay.  If the judge finds that you willfully refused to pay when you had the ability to do so s/he can put you in jail until you pay some or all of what you owe.  You can also have property you own taken and sold to pay for what you owe.  

What if I go to jail or prison? Do I still have to pay? 

According to the law in Florida you still have to pay your child support even for the time that you are in jail or prison.  Your child has a right to support from both parents and you are not excused from this responsibility by incarceration.  Although imprisonment is definitely a “substantial change in circumstances” and obviously affects your ability to earn an income, the law in Florida is that it is still in the “best interests of the child” to receive the child support payments.  This means that you will owe child support from the time that you were in jail or prison.

You should file a petition with the court (as explained below), as soon as possible.  The court should give you a hearing once you are released but can only consider payments from the date that you filed your petition, none of those that came due before you filed:  all of those payments before you filed your petition are owed immediately and cannot be adjusted by the judge who hears your petition. 

In your petition you can explain to the judge that you take your responsibility seriously and want to provide for your child(ren) but ask for all payments while you are incarcerated to be suspended to give you a chance to get on your feet once you are released and can be with them.  Request a realistic payment plan that will allow you to time to get work.  You can also discuss that you will need a driver’s license to help you do so (asking that it not be suspended for failure to pay).

You will need to have your petition notarized (signed in front of a notary).  This you can do by submitting an inmate request. 

More information for people incarcerated in Florida (and their loved ones) can be found here.  

How do I ask the court to change my payment?

You should file a petition with the court to have your child support modified (“changed”).  Use the case number from your original court papers when the child support was ordered.  Make sure to copy the case number, court, and division from the old papers as this is like the “address” of the case and will make sure that it gets to the correct file.  Make sure that your current address is included in your petition so that you can be contacted with the hearing date when it is set by the court.

You need to explain in your petition what the substantial change in your circumstances has been.  For example: loss of job that is not your fault, increase in the non-paying spouse’s income, extended serious illness, child(ren) moving from the other parent’s home to live with you, or incarceration.  Tell the judge what change you would like made and why this change would be in the best interest of your child(ren).  Your petition has to be notarized and filed in the county where the order you are asking to be changed was entered.  Make two copies of your petition:  the original goes to the clerk of the circuit court, you keep one, and the other copy is to serve the other party.

You have to file a Family Law Financial Affidavit along with your petition.  You can find a form for this at www.flcourts.org

There is a form “Supplemental Petition for Modification of Child Support” that can be found at www.flcourts.org that you can use as a guide.  

Does it cost money to file a petition asking for my child support payments to be changed?

Yes, there is a filing fee.  If you cannot afford the fee you can get an Application for Determination of Civil Indigent Status at the clerk of court’s office or online here.

What happens after I file my request with the court to change my child support?

The other side has 20 days to file their response, called an “answer,” from the time they are served with your petition.  The judge will then set a hearing date.  This is your chance to give the court proof of the things you wrote in your petition so bring your financial records with you.  If you have medical records or other evidence that has to do with what you wrote in your petition (e.g. photographs of an injury, hospital bills, etc.), be sure to bring those with you.  Be sure to bring any people that you want to speak to the judge.  Dress conservatively and plan to arrive early.  Do not interrupt and make sure to refer to the judge as “ma’am,” “sir,” or “your honor.”  

Updated: May 10, 2017

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