What if I am unable to pay my child support?

A judge’s order is the only way to have your child support payment suspended or modified (“changed”). You must file a petition with the court requesting that your payment be changed. You can only have your payment changed if

(1) you have had a significant change in circumstances and

(2) it is in the best interests of your child(ren).

Can I simply stop paying?

  • You should not simply cease paying. The following penalties can be applied to you if you suddenly stop paying child support:
  • Your driver’s license may be suspended,
  • your tax refund may be taken,
  • late payments may be reported to credit agencies,
  • and your pay may be garnished (money can be taken out of your paycheck directly from your employer).

Even if you are unable to pay the full amount, pay as much as you can to demonstrate to the court that you are doing your best. If you fail to pay the caretaker for your children, he or she may petition the court to hold you in contempt, and you will be required to explain your failure to pay to the judge. If the judge determines that you willfully refused to pay when you had the ability to do so, he or she has the authority to imprison you until you pay some or all of what you owe. You can also have your own property taken and sold to pay off your debts.

What if I end up in jail or prison? Is it still necessary for me to pay?

You must continue to pay your child support even if you are in jail or prison, according to Florida law. Your child has a right to support from both parents, and incarceration does not absolve you of this responsibility. Although imprisonment is a “substantial change in circumstances” and obviously affects your ability to earn an income, Florida law states that receiving child support payments is still in the “best interests of the child.” This means that you will be required to pay child support from the time you were in jail or prison.

As soon as possible, you should file a petition with the court (as explained below). Once you are released, the court should give you a hearing but can only consider payments from the date you filed your petition, not those that came due before you filed: all payments prior to filing your petition are owed immediately and cannot be adjusted by the judge who hears your petition.

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

You must have your petition notarized (signed in front of a notary). You can do this by submitting an inmate request.

How do I request a change in my payment from the court?

To have your child support modified (“changed”), you must file a petition with the court. When the child support was ordered, use the case number from your original court papers. Make a copy of the case number, court, and division from the old papers as this serves as the “address” of the case and ensures that it is routed to the correct file. Make sure your current address is included in your petition so that you can be contacted when the court sets the hearing date.

In your petition, you must explain the significant change in your circumstances.

For example,

  • a job loss that was not your fault,
  • an increase in the income of the non-paying spouse,
  • a prolonged serious illness,
  • a child(ren) moving from the other parent’s home to live with you,
  • or incarceration.

Tell the judge what changes you want to be made and why they are in your child’s (children’s) best interests.  Your petition must be notarized and filed in the county where the order being changed was issued. Make two copies of your petition: one for you to keep, one for the clerk of the circuit court, and one for the other party to serve.

Along with your petition, you must file a Family Law Financial Affidavit. A form for this can be found on the Florida Courts website.

On the Florida Courts website, there is a form called “Supplemental Petition for Modification of Child Support” that you can use as a guide.

Is it expensive to file a petition to have my child support payments changed?

There is, indeed, a filing fee. If you are unable to pay the fee, you can obtain an “Application for Determination of Civil Indigent Status” from the clerk of court.

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

The other party has 20 days from the date they are served with your petition to file their response, known as an “answer.” The judge will then schedule a hearing. Bring your financial records with you because this is your chance to show the court proof of what you wrote in your petition. Bring any medical records or other evidence related to what you wrote in your petition (e.g., photographs of an injury, hospital bills, etc.) with you. Bring anyone you want to speak to the judge with you. Plan to arrive early and dress conservatively. Do not interrupt, and always address the judge as “ma’am,” “sir,” or “your honor.”

Do I Need An Attorney to have my child support modified?

It might seem self-serving to say that in all instances with matters as serious as divorce, custody (parental time sharing), and child support, you should always have an attorney.  Self-serving or not, it is the truth, you should utilize an attorney.   The odds that you can afford an attorney, however, while requesting a child support modification are not good.  It is 100% legal for you to file “Pro Se” (without counsel).  We would urge at a minimum, however, to at least consult with an attorney well versed in issues of child support modification.   Brandon Legal Group will typically offer a free initial consultation.   This would be a very appropriate time to take advantage of that offer.


Brandon Legal Group
1209 Lakeside Drive
Brandon FL, 33510
Phone: (813)-902-3576
Email: service@brandonlegalgroup.com