Tag: Child Support Enforcement

Interstate Divorces and Foreign Judgments

Interstate divorces can become a serious constitutional problem when you are enforcing foreign judgments. We recently won an important constitutional victory on appeal after a Florida divorce court refused to enforce a Missouri foreign judgment.

Interstate Divorce

Gateway to a United Country

A couple married in Missouri. Then they asked to borrow money from the Husband’s mother to buy a marital home in Missouri. The mother-in-law agreed to lend them the money for the down payment after the couple agreed to repay her in full.

The couple then asked that the Mother-in-law pay their mortgage payments and lend them even more money to renovate their new home they bought, with the same arrangement that they would repay her from the sale of their previous home.

They didn’t pay back the mother-in-law. Instead, they moved to Florida and defaulted.

The Mother-in-law sued them, and won a final judgment awarding her money from on the unpaid loan in a Missouri Circuit Court.

The parties then filed for divorce in Florida. The mother-in law was concerned her judgment would never be repaid, so she intervened in their divorce as a foreign judgment creditor to enforce her Missouri final judgment.

The Florida divorce court allowed her to intervene and enforce the Missouri judgment, but entered a new divorce final judgment slashing the mother-in-law’s Missouri judgment in half so the couple didn’t have to pay her back what they owed.

The trial court’s actions violated the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution, a constitutional clause which helps make us one country, not 50 independent countries.

Florida Interstate Divorce Issues

I’ve written and spoken about interstate divorce issues before. The typical interstate problems occur in cases in which two parents reside in one state, like Missouri for instance, then one or more of the parents and the children move across state lines to Florida, for instance.

Interstate problems can include enforcing foreign custody orders, enforcing or modifying family support orders (like alimony and child support), or enforcing foreign money judgments.

To help with confusion between different laws in different American states, the Uniform Law Commission is tasked with drafting laws on various subjects that attempt to bring uniformity across American state lines.

With respect to family law, different American states had adopted different approaches to issues related to interstate custody, interstate alimony, and child support. The results were that different states had conflicting resolutions to the same problems.

To seek harmony in this area, the Uniform Law Commission promulgated the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (the UCCJEA) and Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (the UIFSA), which Florida and almost all U.S. states passed into law.

A major problem arises when one state’s judgment conflicts with Florida’s public policy. For example, grandparent visitation is an area of law in which Florida does not really recognize a grandparent’s rights, but many other states do.

A few years ago, the Florida Supreme Court the Florida Supreme Court held that Florida is not allowed to elevate its own public policy over the policy behind a sister state’s judgment.

Accordingly, a Florida divorce court cannot refuse to enforce a Missouri judgment for money damages if one happened to be at issue in a Florida divorce. But that’s exactly what happened recently in a divorce court here.

Sunshine State Meets the Show Me State

After the Florida divorce court’s ruling, we asked an appellate court in Florida to reverse what the divorce court had done. On appeal, a panel of judges reviewed the case.

We explained that the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution creates a constitutional duty that U.S. states must honor the laws and judgments of the other sister states.

That is an important aspect of American federalism because it changes the various U.S. states from being independent foreign countries, and making them integral parts of a single nation.

This form of federalism has traditionally meant that one state in the United States may not modify or alter the judgment of a sister state (excluding child support and custody cases which can be modified under very limited circumstances).

In our case, no one disputed the validity of the Missouri judgment. Everyone participated in a full trial on the merits in Missouri. In reversing, the appellate court held that a Florida divorce court was prevented from inquiring into the merits of the cause of action or the logic or consistency of the Missouri court’s decision.

Because the mother-in-law appropriately intervened in the divorce action and asserted her right to enforce the Missouri judgment, the divorce court did not have discretion to alter or reduce the Missouri judgment or it constituted a violation of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The appellate opinion is here.

 

Winning Child Support Modification

If ‘money talks’, actor Charlie Sheen is talking a lot about how he can no longer afford child support after being “blacklisted” in Hollywood, according to court documents obtained by People and Us Weekly. What would the entertainer have to prove to get a child support modification in Florida?

child support modification

Defeat is not an option

The “Two and a Half Men” star, 52, filed requests to modify his child support payments to ex-wives Denise Richards and Brooke Mueller, the news sites report.

Sheen shares twin sons, 9, with Mueller, to whom he was married between 2008 and 2011; and daughters 14, 13, with Richards. That marriage lasted from 2002 to 2006.

Florida Child Support

I’ve written about child support issues before. For famous actors such as Sheen, and other high-income parents, the child support guidelines can award support far exceeding any child’s needs.

Because of this problem, the guidelines expressly provide the amounts can be adjusted upward or downward. Florida allows deviations by up to 5 percent after considering relevant factors. And the statute authorizes deviations by more than 5 percent, pursuant to a list of enumerated factors.

Not on Wall Street Anymore

Sheen’s case is ironic: the famous and flamboyant actor – surrounded by “goddesses”, infused with “tiger blood”, and bragging about “winning”, claims he can’t afford his child support payments.

If Sheen is asking for a modification of his child support, he would have to prove a substantial change in circumstances, the change was not contemplated at the time of final judgment, and the change is sufficient, material, involuntary, and permanent in nature.

Courts will also want to know whether Sheen is voluntarily reducing his income by failing to use enough effort to find work commensurate with his acting abilities.

There’s also the added problem of his flaunting his wealth. Media reports on Sheen have always shown him flaunting an extravagant hedonistic lifestyle.

“I’m bi-winning. I win here, I win there!”

The USA Today documents also reportedly reveal Sheen’s reasoning behind his “dire financial crisis” with less than $10 million to his name.

“I have been unable to find steady work, and have been blacklisted from many aspects of the entertainment industry,” he alleges in the filings. “All of this has resulted in a significant reduction in my earnings.”

In addition to child support payments, the documents show Sheen is “past due” on payments to his home mortgage and pool and gardening services.

The USA Today article is here.

 

SHAME! Using Facebook to Enforce Support

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Child Support on Friday, January 22, 2016.

Arizona’s “Hashtag Governor” announced that his state will start using social media to publicly shame deadbeat parents who refuse to pay their child support.

In Florida every child has the right to financial support from both parents. The Department of Revenue is the state agency responsible for Florida’s Child Support Enforcement Program. In Miami-Dade County, the Office of the State Attorney handles the program.

The Department of Revenue locates parents, establishes paternity, gets support orders and enforces them. Florida wants parents, not the state, to take care of their children. And, if the parents are not paying, we all are paying.

Florida has a number of ways to enforce child support orders:

– contempt of court,

– suspension of driver’s license,|

– property liens,

– Passport suspension, and

– Bank account seizure

There is no statute of limitations on the enforcement of child support and child support arrears. Child support can be enforced after the children are over 18, and even against the estate of a parent after a parent’s death.

Arizona announced a new way to enforce child support orders. Governor Doug Ducey launched a campaign to crack down on “the worst of the worst” parents by posting their names and photos to Twitter and Facebook.

“For too long, you’ve been able to remain anonymous – able to skirt your financial and legal responsibilities with no shame. Not anymore,” the governor proclaimed. Effective immediately, he said, the state would begin posting the photos, names and money owed by “these losers” to social media, with the hashtag #deadbeat.

It’s simple. If you’re old enough to father a child, then you’re old enough to accept financial responsibility for that child. If you don’t want you’re embarrassing – unlawful – and irresponsible behavior going viral: Man up, and pay up,” the Republican governor said.

The governor said the shaming campaign is targeting 421 deadbeats in the state (34 of whom are women) who collectively owe $20 million. “These deadbeats are the worst of the worst,” he tweeted on Wednesday.

I’ve written about child support related issues before, as well as written an article on social media and family law. The collection and enforcement of unpaid child support is a big issue in Florida, and impacts us all.

The Business Insider article on Arizona is available here.