ORLANDO, Fla. – Almost two billion dollars in current and delinquent child support.
Let that sink in.
That is what Florida’s Department of Revenue is trying to collect from parents who owe current and delinquent child support across the state.
DOR records show during the 2018-2019 fiscal financial year, Florida had more than 637,000 cases with an existing support order, with more than $1.6 million collected and disbursed.
But while the state agency boasts an 83% collection rate, it shows that more than $1.9 billion is not collected and still owed to families in the form of current support, past due support and ongoing spousal support.
While some families are owed anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousands of dollars in back child support, there are some Central Florida families who are owed six-figure totals.
Here are the highest amounts owed in individual cases in all 10 Central Florida Counties - with the highest amount being owed in Volusia County.
Note that the counties listed are where the case originated, but may not reflect where either parent lives now.
According to the Department of Revenue, the amounts displayed above are “point in time” figures that were provided to News 6 in November 2019.
An agency spokesperson said balances change as obligations change and payments are made. And now that we are in 2020, any recent court actions could impact the balance of a case, and some cases may no longer be active in the child support program.
Still, these aren’t even the worst cases.
DOR records show there are three cases in Palm Beach where more than $1 million in support is still owed.
The highest amount owed in Florida is a case out of Miami-Dade, in which the past due support exceeds $2.1 million.
One Central Florida family’s story
David Ronan lives in Osceola County, and admits he owes more than $145,600 in back child support.
“I have no issue paying child support,” David Ronan said. "I want to be able to pay the right amount, not what I’m not supposed to pay. "
David Ronan said when he got divorced, he had a good-paying job and was ordered to pay $1,500 a month in child support for his four kids.
He said then he moved and lost his job.
“Back then I didn’t know how to have it modified, so for 15 years they wanted me to pay $1,500 a month,” David Ronan said. “It just kept adding up, and adding up because I couldn’t afford to pay $1,500 a month. I’ve got no income. So I can’t pay anything to anybody.”
“It’s just not right,” said Deborah Lamberson, who is David Ronan’s ex-wife and the mother of his four children.
She said both she and her daughter Kayla Ronan are tired of all the excuses.
"You say you are a good father, but you are really not," said Kayla Ronan, who just turned 18.
Lamberson said its been an ongoing battle.
“Every six months we take him back to court for non-payment,” Lamberson said. “They tell him they are going to suspend his license, so he shows up for court. And they say, ‘Well how much can you pay,’ and he says, ‘$100.’ And they say, ‘OK.’ Six months later, we’re back and do it again. I’ve been doing that for 18 years.”
They said David Ronan has yet to go to jail for all the child support he owes for Kayla Ronan, her sister and two older brothers.
“I mean at one time it was up to $175,000 owed, and then they backed it down to $145,000 owed - but I still don’t get any of it,” Lamberson said. “It is ridiculous that it’s allowed to get that far. It should never have gotten that far.”
Even David Ronan agrees that it went too far.
“I’ll never get that paid off ever in my life,” David Ronan said. “I’ve tried to have it audited - they (the Florida Department of Revenue) don’t want to do anything. It’s ridiculous.”
He said just because a parent doesn’t pay, doesn’t mean they don’t want to.
“You know I help my kids with money but it is considered a gift,” David Ronan said. “It doesn’t go for the child support system. So if I really want to be a scumbag, I could just say goodbye and take your child support and shove it. I’m not a deadbeat dad, I do what I can. I’m always with my kids doing things with them.”
But his daughter Kayla Ronan said it is too little too late and has this message to any parent who is not paying their court-ordered support.
“It’s still going to be something that haunts you until you pay it off,” Kayla Ronan said. “So why don’t you just pay it off so you don’t have to worry about it?”
News 6 first started investigating the state of child support collection in Florida in 2017.
Back then, parents flooded the News 6 Facebook page with comments about their frustrations with Florida's child support system, and criticizing the state when it comes to enforcing the support orders.
Two years later, it’s not any better with more than a hundred comments.
According to one Circuit Judge in Central Florida, there may be some relief in sight when it comes to the overwhelming number of child support cases flooding family courtrooms.
The judge said in November 2019, that the Florida Supreme Court certified a need for two new circuit court judgeships for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, and one additional county court judgeship in Orange County.
The judge said additional judicial positions may help to alleviate backlogs.
The judge encouraged those who owe child support to contact an attorney, or those in Orange County who can’t afford an attorney can contact the Orange County Legal Aid Society or the Clerk of Court Self Help Office.
The judge said if it is determined that you can afford to pay your court-ordered child support and you are willfully refusing to make these payments, you can be held in contempt of court and put in jail for violating a court order.
In addition, professional and recreational licenses may be suspended for nonpayment, your passport can be held, liens can be placed on motor vehicles, and money can be withheld from insurance settlements, IRS tax refunds and workers’ compensation benefits.
“The system is absolutely flawed," one Central Florida attorney said.
Steven Kramer is a private attorney based in the Orlando area.
He said there is no reason for anyone to allow a child support case to get into the $100,000 range.
“If you are an individual who is supposed to pay and you’re not, and there’s a reason for it, don’t just delay,” Kramer said. “Get in court and do something about it. Show that you can’t pay.”
Kramer said the best thing either side can do when dealing with a child support dispute is to hire an attorney or find a free one through legal aid.
"An attorney is not going to let it get out of control like that," Kramer said.
Kramer said while many non-custodial parents may try to run from their obligations, they can’t hide since it will follow them wherever they go. He added that there are several ways that you can track them down.
“You can do a skip trace, you can hire a private investigator,” Kramer said. “You can take the steps to find that person, find where they’ve disappeared to and then get them served with the hearing for the motion for contempt.”
Kramer’s message to all parents out there: don’t give up.
“There is relief out there, there is relief,” Kramer said.