Child support hearings in Florida should never be taken lightly. In many ways, they directly impact the financial and emotional well-being of children whose parents have separated or divorced. This means they’re more than mere formalities. They’re critical for establishing fair and equitable financial support arrangements, ensuring the child's best interests, and upholding the legal obligations of each parent.
However there may be times that a parent doesn’t show up for a child support hearing. This can occur for various reasons. It may be the case that one of the parents has legitimate reasons for not making the scheduled date, due to work commitments or health issues. That said, it’s certainly not unheard of for a parent to miss a hearing due to not taking the process seriously enough, or assuming the situation will just resolve itself if they ignore it. It’s important to recognize that a parent being absent from these hearings can have knock-on effects.
Let’s take a moment to explore what happens if a parent doesn’t show up for a child support hearing.
The Various Consequences
If a parent doesn’t show up for a child support hearing in Florida, there can be various consequences. Some of these will affect only the absentee. However, there can be legal and emotional outcomes that have a wider impact on the other party and potentially the children involved.
Some of the consequences you should be aware of include:
Potential default judgment
While there are usually no direct lethal penalties — such as fines or jail time — for failing to appear for most child support hearings, the absentee parent may be impacted in other ways. Perhaps the most common example of this is a default judgment. For instance, if the hearing is to determine the amount of child support you’re expected to pay, the court may choose to make a judgment that doesn’t take into account mitigating circumstances that you would otherwise present if present. The non-attending party might also find a default judgment made that allows the other party to immediately begin enforcement procedures that result in garnishing pay, driver license suspension or other forms of penalty. Indeed, in Florida, if a non-custodial parent fails to appear at a hearing to explain why they haven’t paid support, the courts assume they are able to pay and are acting in contempt, which can have serious legal repercussions. Attendance may have resulted in the ability to arrange alternative and less invasive methods of settling outstanding child support debt.
In some instances, the parent seeking child support payment might fail to attend the child support hearing. As with the previous section, this may result in a default judgment on the case by the court. It can also see the child support case becoming automatically closed without review by the court. This means that the custodial parent may need to begin the child support claim process with the Florida Department of Revenue over again, taking more time and reducing the financial resources available for the child involved.
Automatic paternity determination
If payment of child support hinges on disputes over paternity, a hearing may be scheduled to establish whether sufficient proof either way is available or whether a test must be ordered. However, it’s important to note that Florida law sets out that both parents being married to one another at the time of the child’s birth is sufficient to assume paternity. If the assumed father is disputing paternity but fails to appear for the hearing, the court may make a determination based on the married status of the parents. This can result in the requirement to make child support payments until such time as the assumed father is able to prove otherwise.
Difficulties seeking modifications
Not attending child support hearings can send a distinct message to the courts and all parties involved. If one parent fails to attend hearings without a valid reason, this message can be that the absentee parent doesn’t take their responsibilities seriously or that there’s a lack of respect for the courts, other parent, and the children involved. Therefore, if the parent failing to attend wishes to make modifications to the child support agreements in the future, the perceived lack of prior co-operation may affect the court’s decision-making.
Avoiding the Consequences
Certainly, the best way of avoiding such consequences is to make every effort to attend a child support hearing. Furthermore, it is wise to fully participate in the hearings as much as possible to demonstrate willingness to cooperate and achieve the best outcome possible for everyone involved. However, there may be times that a parent may not be able to attend the scheduled court date. In order to avoid the consequences, it’s important to take action.
Some approaches to this can include:
Communicate with the court
When a hearing date is scheduled, both parents should receive a notice in the mail and — in most circumstances — by email. As soon as it is clear that you are unable to attend at the date and time scheduled, contact the applicable court. Alternatively, your family law attorney will be able to communicate this on your behalf. This provides the opportunity to reschedule rather than simply not showing up.
Seek alternative methods of attendance
The Florida family court system today is not limited to in-person child support hearings. If you’re unable to attend the hearing physically, there may be an opportunity to attend it remotely. This may be performed by telephone or by video utilizing Zoom. In some instances, the court may arrange this automatically. However, if you need to arrange to attend an in-person hearing remotely, you’ll need to contact the relevant court. Your family law attorney can also seek these arrangements on your behalf.
Seeking Modification if You Miss a Hearing
A missed child support hearing should be avoided at all costs. However, if it occurs, this doesn’t mean you have no recourse. While you might receive a default judgment or an initial order that you find unfavorable, you may find that you can still seek modifications. As we’ve outlined, this can be difficult if you’ve repeatedly failed to show for hearings. Nevertheless, the legal system recognizes that circumstances can change over time and personal situations can interfere with attending court dates. With the help of an experienced family law attorney, you could still effectively modify the terms of the default support determination.
Establish grounds for modification
Particularly if you’ve missed hearings previously, you need to be certain that your modification grounds are sufficient to warrant a review. This could include significant changes in your income, changes in your child’s needs, or other substantial alterations to your circumstances. It’s usually wisest to collaborate with an attorney experienced in representing fathers in Florida on this. They’ll be able to assist you in both assessing how likely your circumstances are to result in a modification and any potential hurdles that you might need to overcome in relation to previous absenteeism.
Initiate the modification process
To initiate the modification process, you’ll need to file a request with the court. Usually, this involves simply submitting a form alongside copies of documentation that supports the reasons for the modification request. In the case of previous absenteeism, it’s particularly intelligent to arrange for a family law attorney to handle this on your behalf. They’ll be able to help you to create an application that provides evidence of the legitimacy of your request and potentially represent your reasons for previous absenteeism. While this is not necessarily guaranteed to convince the court to treat your case favorably, it may demonstrate you’re approaching the process seriously and respectfully. If the courts feel that there are grounds for modification, they’ll make arrangements for a hearing accordingly.
Call The Family Law Attorneys Men Trust (813) 415-3510
In Law We Trust Divorce and Family Lawyers is a premier firm of divorce lawyers representing men in family law proceedings. We have years of experience representing men who are navigating child support challenges, including issues surrounding missed hearings. Our team’s experience and skills help to guide our clients through the hurdles of the Florida family law courts. Call us today and get the proper representation men need and deserve.
HAVE QUESTIONS? LET'S TALK TODAY!
CALL NOW! (813) 415-3510