Florida Child Support Enforcement Program 'has no teeth,' parents say

Child support investigation finds $1.2 billion owed in current, back support

ORLANDO, Fla. – Most people know someone who has experienced a bitter divorce, and when there are children involved, it is even harder.

But what is the state of Florida doing to collect on any past due child support out there on the parent who may have skipped town or just refuses to pay?

News 6 has learned that this fiscal year, the Florida Department of Revenue Child Support Program has collected more than $1 billion in current and past due child support. The program boasts it has a collection rate of 81.9 percent, but it is still trying to collect on $1.2 billion more.

News 6 asked what's being done to get results on past due cases. The Florida Department of Revenue, or FDR, was asked several times for an on camera interview, but they declined.

However, FDR officials said their Child Support Program currently has 541,576 cases.

Here's how the cases break down by county in Central Florida:

Orange County   38,830 cases

Polk County        25,845 cases

Brevard County   15,698 cases

Volusia County   15,385 cases

Marion County    12,865 cases

Osceola County 11,388 cases

Seminole County  9,457 cases

Lake County          8,647 cases

Flagler County      2,241 cases

Sumter County      1,637 cases

Of those cases, 436,271 are men who owe child support and 32,608 are women.

Some of these non-compliant parents owe on more than just one child support case.

The FDR said that these are all the child support cases on file, both those who are paying and those who are not, and that is having a big effect on Central Florida families.

Christi Hubbard said she and her husband divorced in 1996 and since that time, he has failed to provide child support for their two sons. She said he currently owes more than $140,000 with interest accruing daily.

"We sacrificed and suffered over 20 years," Hubbard said. "He has the ability to pay. He chooses not to."

Hubbard said the few times she was able to collect any child support was when the FDR seized a tax return from her ex-husband. After that, Hubbard said he started filing them under a different social security number to avoid paying child support for their young sons. She said he spent time in federal prison for fraud using the other social security number.

"(My sons) didn't understand why they went from being able to visit and have fun to being told that we were just money hungry grabbers, and we should have no contact," Hubbard said. "It was like we were dead to them."

Hubbard’s son, Mark Myers, can remember how hard it was on them growing up. He said he didn't have a lot of friends, didn't have a lot of toys, and didn't have any contact with his father.

"It's sad, if you think about it, because a father is supposed to be there for his children. Good, bad, don't matter if they're locked up or not," Myers said. "They're supposed to be there for their children."

Both Hubbard and Myers have this message to all the non-compliant parents out there.

"They're not paying it when they could pay it, because they think it’s too much money out of their pocket, especially if it's an income deduction from their work check," Hubbard said. "But it means the difference between having a place to stay and being able to eat."

"Be there for your children or just don't have children," Myers said. "Children shouldn't have to go through that."

Myers said it broke his heart to see his mom suffer all those years. He said he won’t be following in his father's footsteps.

Hubbard said she had to move around a lot and depend on family, since she simply couldn't afford the rent raising two young kids on her own without any support. She, like many custodial parents out there, deal with excuse after excuse, including the non-custodial parent claiming they cannot get a job.

"That's exactly what he said, 'I have no money. I can't get a job. It’s not my responsibility,'" said Hubbard.

Michael Passini can relate. He was given full custody of his daughter in 2003 and was awarded child support from the child’s mother.

"She's maybe made two payments. (I’ve) been to court once, and nothing further has happened," said Passini. "She chooses not to work. She just doesn't want to do it. She figures that she doesn't need to and that anybody else will take care of her child for her. She doesn't want the responsibility of taking care of her."

Passini said he called the Department of Revenue repeatedly for six months straight to let them know where his ex-partner was in order to try to collect the more than $20,000 she owes. He said nothing was done about it. He said he feels the Child Support Enforcement Program has no teeth, and that nothing is being done to change that.

"It hurts not just me but the care of my daughter," Passini said. "I haven't been able to get some of the stuff she wants and needs."

But the FDL disputes that, stating they send out notices to parents who owe support, even if they live out of state.

The state agency stated they also impose other enforcement tools, like having the non-compliant parents' wages garnished, having their driver's license suspended, having their work license suspended or have them sentenced to jail. In extreme cases, those non-compliant parents could face criminal charges and penalties. News 6 has also learned that non-paying parents can also have their passport blocked, and the amount they owe will also appear on their credit report, since the FDL has the authority to alert the consumer reporting agency about the outstanding child support debt.

But even with that, many parents who responded to a News 6 inquiry on Facebook said their exes are still not paying, even when slapped with these many sanctions. Some said the Department of Revenue does not go after the non-compliant parent fast enough or effectively enough to enforce payment of back child support.

The FDR said child support cases are monitored daily to assess if payments due are paid and claim of payments are not made as ordered, the enforcement actions outlined above are taken to achieve compliance with support orders.

So where else can people turn for help? One place is the legal aid offices in your county.

"I see it fairly often unfortunately," said Sue Selsky, who is an attorney with Seminole County Legal Aid Society in Longwood, Florida.

Selsky said she feels called to help parents like Christi Hubbard and Mike Passini,  or people who can't afford to pay for a private attorney but who still want to get results.

Selsky was recently able to collect more than $50,000 for a few of her clients. 

"We do have some cases where parents do pay voluntarily, and of course, they get credit for that," said Selsky. "But for a lot of my cases, they aren't paying anything to the other parent."

Selsky said that’s exactly why there are legal aids all over Florida to help parents with the child support process. Parents can also start and keep track of the process on the Florida Department of Revenue Child Support EServices website.

"And even if the parent is out of state there are ways to get it," she said. "So there are options rather than just doing nothing."

A parent may try to run and hide from their responsibility and back child support, but News 6 has learned the debt never goes away.

If the non-compliant parent ever wins the lottery, gets a tax refund, starts collecting social security or disability or wins an insurance claim, the back child support he or she owes will be taken from that revenue until the back child support is paid in full, with interest.

Selsky encouraged both custodial and non-custodial parents not to give up on helping their kids, especially since once a child support case is ordered in court. It can never be discharged, not even in bankruptcy court. The program can also intercept insurance settlements, unclaimed property and issue a bank levy. 

"So if the other parent isn't paying anything for almost 2 years, that's quite a bit of child support," Selsky said. "It's sad when sometimes the other parent, for whatever reason, kind of, just walks away and just throws their hands up and doesn't do anything to support the family."

However, Selsky said both parents and children should never give up hope and, above all, get a support order established with the state.