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No Driver's License Suspension When a Parent Cannot Pay Child Support

Attorney Peter Mavrick
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12/22/08

NO DRIVER’S LICENSE SUSPENSION WHEN A PARENT CANNOT PAY CHILD SUPPORT

 

When a parent cannot pay court ordered child support, can he or she avoid suspension of a driver’s license?  The answer is yes, although many people suffer these suspensions unnecessarily.  In Florida, unfortunately, many poor parents suffer driver’s license suspensions for failure to meet child support obligations pursuant to court orders, even when the parents lack the financial resources to meet those obligations.  The financial problems can be compounded when the State of Florida suspends the driver’s license, calling this necessity in modern society, a “privilege, not a right.”  However, a driver’s license can be reinstated.

In Gregory v. Rice, 727 So.2d 251, 253-254 (Fla. 1999), the Supreme Court of Florida explained that when person who fails to meet a child support obligation, a trial court may hold the delinquent parent in civil contempt. However, the trial court is authorized to do so only when the parent has the ability to pay a purge amount.  The court explained that “regardless of whether the sanction is incarceration, garnishment of wages … [or] the revocation of a driver’s license, … the court must provide the contemnor [i.e., the non-paying parent] with the ability to purge the contempt.”  If the delinquent parent has no “present ability” to pay the purge amount, then he or she cannot be held in civil contempt.  In 2005, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal in Larsen v. Larsen, 901 So.2d 327 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005), extended this line of analysis to cover suspension of the driver’s license of a parent who fails to meet a child support obligation.  The Larsen case explained that “[b]ecause the suspension of a driver’s license constitutes a civil sanction,” the trial court must first “determine that the contemnor [i.e., the non-paying parent] has the present ability to pay the purge amount.” 

This is so even though it appears to conflict with Florida statutory law. Florida Statutes section 61.13016 provides that a child support obligor who has been given notice of the intent to suspend his or her driver’s license may petition the court to contest the delinquency action.  While the statute states that the obligor may contest the notice by showing a mistake of fact as to the delinquency or the obligor’s identity, the statute does not contain wording excusing the suspension for inability to pay. However, the Larsen case explains that the statute must be read in the context of the Florida Supreme Court’s Gregory v. Rice decision, that a driver’s license suspension is a civil sanction requiring the court to find “a present ability to pay the purge amount in order to enter the civil sanction.” 

Where a parent lacks the financial ability to pay a purge amount set, for example due to layoff from a job, injury, or health problems, among other possible circumstances, then a driver’s license cannot be validly suspended.

Attorney Peter Mavrick practices in the field of business and labor/employment litigation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  The research in this article stems from legal work for a former client who needed assistance.  Mr. Mavrick’s law office phone number is (954) 564-2246.  Information contained in this article is accurate as of December 2008. This article is for general information use only, and does not substitute for specifically tailored legal advice. 

 

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