Despite that we conduct much of our personal and professional business electronically, we still get too much paper mail. It often goes into a pile and we do not read it for weeks, if at all. Or if it’s from a sender we do not recognize, it might go directly into recycling.
But in Florida, if you have a child and are not in a relationship or marriage with the other parent, an important letter could arrive that you need to open and respond to in a timely fashion because it may be an official notice about child support. That letter would be from the Florida Department of Revenue, the state agency that administers the child support enforcement program.
(The federal government provides financial assistance to an agency in each state to oversee the support of children. These agencies are called Title IV-D agencies.)
To that end, the Department of Revenue can establish, modify and enforce child support obligations. The agency’s order in this regard is called an administrative support order.
The department’s powers provide an alternative to going to state court to resolve child support matters. Either parent can ask the Florida circuit court to hear the support matter any time and any order from the court trumps an administrative support order.
The agency provides services on behalf of all children, whether the family receives public assistance or not.
OPEN THAT LETTER IMMEDIATELY
So why is it important to open the letter right away?
• This may be your official notice that the department intends to issue an administrative support order concerning your child. You have various rights and responsibilities that you must act upon within certain deadlines counted from the day you receive the notice.
• You have 20 days to request in writing that the department proceed in court instead or that you intend to have the court handle issues of visitation and parental contact
• You have 20 days to return the competed financial affidavit form sent with the letter.
• You must provide the agency with requested personal information and keep your address on file current.
The Department of Revenue will apply the state child support guideline schedule and issue a proposed administrative support order mailed to both parents. It is also crucial that you open this second letter immediately!
The parent who would pay child support has 20 days from the mailing of the proposal to ask for a hearing on it in writing. Another option is to contact the department within 10 days to initiate an informal discussion about the proposal, which extends the deadline for hearing request until 10 days after the informal discussion ends.
If the parent does not request a hearing, the department will issue the order along with any parenting time agreement between the parties. The department has the power to enforce the administrative order through any “lawful means.”
If the parent requests a hearing, there will be an administrative hearing after which a support order will issue.
If either party is unhappy with the administrative support order, he or she can go to court to request a modification and any court order would supersede the administrative order.
In some cases, the Department of Revenue can ask the court to order that the nonprevailing party in an administrative child support proceeding pay the department’s costs incurred in the enforcement proceeding, if the party has the financial means to pay for them.
This is a high-level overview of a complex process. The deadlines described are subject to change and there may be other important rules that apply in a given situation, so it is important to discuss the process and your circumstances with a family lawyer as soon as possible