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Obtaining Past Due Support through Obligor’s Workers’ Compensation


Family in need of attorney

Enforcing support orders, whether for alimony or child support, is quite different from the enforcement of other debts or judgments, in that there are many more methods available to an obligee to obtain past due support than with other types of financial obligations. An example demonstrating the special status that is placed upon support obligations, is an obligee’s ability to place a lien on proceeds that an obligor may receive as a result of a settlement involving workers’ compensation benefits. The following is provided by the Family Law Attorneys of the Law Office of Alba & Yochim P.A. to assist both obligees and obligors in understanding the availability and extent of entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits as a means of enforcing spousal or child support obligations.

In Florida, workers’ compensation awards are statutorily exempt from creditors’ claims. However, it is well established that a claim for child support arrearage is not a claim of a creditor. The reasoning behind this, as stated in Bryant v. Bryant, 621 So.2d 574, 576 (Fla. 2d DCA 1993), is that “the courts have looked to the purpose of the worker’s compensation law and determined that it was meant not only to protect the worker but also to protect the worker’s dependents.” In addition, “another factor the courts have considered is that a worker’s compensation benefit is included as income when a court determines the amount of a child support award.”

There are several factors that can greatly impact the availability and extent of a lien on workers’ compensation benefits. Although the legal right allowing enforcement of a support arrearage by placing a lien on worker’s compensation settlement proceeds exists, this right is not limitless. It is important to consider all statutory, procedural, factual or other implications relevant to the specific case at hand. For example, there are generally limitations to the recovery of attorney’s fees associated with the enforcement of support arrearage by means of attachment of lien on settlement proceeds.

In addition, just because an obligor owes a particular amount in past due support does not mean that an obligee is entitled to place a lien on proceeds to an extent equivalent to the entire amount owed. As stated in Rodgers v. Reed, 931 So. 2d 236 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006), in citing Department of Revenue v. Springer, 800 So. 2d 700 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001), enforcement of the lien “must accommodate both the child support needs and the needs of the recipient of the settlement.” The entitlement to proceeds, therefore, must be assessed by the trial court, because, as stated in Springer,

“[T]he enforcement of a lien through straight attachment of all proceeds, up to the amount of the child support arrearage, may not be appropriate in all cases, since it could leave the injured worker without sufficient funds for self-support.”

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Another important consideration is the timing associated with the attachment of a lien on settlement proceeds. It is important to know that an obligee may seek the imposition of a lien on proceeds even when the amount of proceeds has not yet been determined, however, the ultimate amount recovered under a lien is generally subject to review by the trial court. In concluding that a lien imposed on undisbursed settlement proceeds is an appropriate mechanism for obtaining past due support, the ruling in Springer provided:

“If this court were to hold otherwise then the real possibility would exist that a deadbeat parent could avoid the obligation to pay child support by disposing of settlement proceeds before a lien could attach. The imposition of a lien on prospective settlement proceeds is an appropriate mechanism to protect proceeds from improper diversion.”

The availability under Florida law allowing for the attachment of a lien prior to disbursement or determination of a settlement amount, suggests the benefit of seeking the imposition of a lien as early as possible. Adequately protecting your legal rights, therefore, demands a proactive approach be employed by an obligee that is owed past due support. Consider the scenario where you, as an obligee, are owed a substantial amount of past due support, but you delay seeking the imposition of a lien, and as a result, the settlement is disbursed, and the obligor diverts such proceeds so as to avoid their support obligation. While you can certainly seek legal recourse in the form of contempt proceedings, or other available means of enforcement, the potential of recovering the diverted funds, for many, is highly unlikely. Consequently, time is of the essence.

From the obligor’s perspective, an obligee’s ability to seek a prejudgment lien also suggests that addressing lien issues associated with settlement benefits as soon as the issue either arises, or may potentially arise, is the more desirable approach. In some cases, an obligor may fail to seek modification, or otherwise fail to respond to, object to, or successfully defend a request, order, or judgment involving the imposition of a lien.

An obligor’s failure to address lien issues in a timely manner can greatly impact the legal recourse that may be available to such obligor. As attorneys representing clients with child and spousal support matters, we have had the opportunity to represent both obligees owed support, as well as obligors owing support. Through our years in practice, we have gained valuable insight on the legal and factual implications from the perspectives of both parties. Let the Law Office of Alba & Yochim P.A. put our experience to work for you.