Fathers in Florida are not given enough information about their rights before the Court sets child support obligations. It is undisputable that we need a system in place that guarantees that fathers support their children financially. However, the current system seems to ignore that each child deserves to be supported financially by both parents, and not only by their fathers, and that each parent deserves to spend time with their children.
Most fathers, especially those who are low-income, are dragged into administrative proceedings by the Florida Department of Revenue instead of having an opportunity to present a full case to a Family Court Judge. In Florida, the Division of Administrative Hearings establishes child support orders without putting a time-sharing schedule in place. This leaves fathers with a child support obligation and at the mercy of the other parent as to when they can spend time with their children. In an administrative proceeding, the hearing officer is primarily focused on establishing the amount of retroactive and monthly obligation. They do not have the ability to issue a divorce, a legal separation, alimony, or establish a parenting plan.
Parents in the administrative process, especially fathers, are not educated on the benefits of transferring the child support case out of the administrative hearing and into Family Court. Unlike in an administrative proceeding, in Family Court each parent is asked to file proof of their income for the previous three years. Parties are asked to exchange their tax returns for three years, bank statements for three months, pay stubs for three months, among other documents. The biggest benefit of being in Family Court is that a judge will ask that the parents work on a parenting plan together.
A parenting plan is, in practical terms, a sort of contract on how the parents will raise their minor children. The parenting plan will dictate whether the parents will make important decisions together or whether one parent will have the final say on certain issues; for example, those dealing with education and health care. The plan will also set a time-sharing schedule. The time-sharing schedule will dictate when each parent will be the child. The plan will also include details on how they intend to split holidays and academic vacations. The amount of time that each parent spends with the child will also affect the amount of the child support obligation. Parents in administrative proceedings do not get this chance and they are, for the most part, not told that they have a right to a parenting plan. Without a parenting plan in place, fathers are left without any say as to when they can spend time with their children.
Fathers should not be taken for granted. Under the current system, they are treated like wallets and not like parents. Instead of being dragged into the child support office and automatically treated like dead beat dads, they should be educated on how child support is calculated, what financial documents they have a right to ask for from the other parent, the importance of a parenting plan, and what a time-sharing schedule is.