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Placing a Lien on Tax Refunds to Obtain Past Due Support


Family in need of attorney

The right, expectation, and entitlement to the receipt of support pursuant to a valid order of the court, is a well-established matter of public policy. As a result of Florida’s special classification of obligations for spousal and child support, the remedies available to seek enforcement are far more expansive than with other types of debts. For example, the ability to seek enforcement of past due support through placing a lien on tax refund proceeds that an obligor is expected to receive, will generally take precedence over other non-support related debts.

In some cases, such as those involving enforcement of support via workers’ compensation or personal injury proceeds, it is necessary for the trial court to assess the needs of the obligor, as compared with the needs of the support beneficiary prior to determining an amount that an obligee will be entitled to under a lien placed on such proceeds. This is because settlement proceeds associated with an injury may be needed by an obligor in order to maintain sufficient self-support. Tax proceeds, on the other hand, are not intended as a means of support for an obligor who is injured or unable to work. Consequently, the accessibility to tax proceeds is such that it provides a valuable enforcement tool for an obligee to obtain past due support from an obligor.

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In comparison to other enforcement methods, for many, attaching a lien to an obligor’s tax refund, can be the most efficient and cost-effective method of seeking past due support. Consider the effect of contempt proceedings or other enforcement measures, such as those which seek suspension of an obligor’s driver’s license and motor vehicle registration. For some, this may be an appropriate or necessary approach. For others, however, the effect of such proceedings may simply hinder an obligor’s ability to work, and therefore further complicate their ability to make support payments. As such, for many obligees, enforcement of support through the placement of a lien on an obligor’s tax refund, offers a less adversarial means to efficiently and effectively remedy arrearage issues.

As an obligee, awareness of an obligor’s ability to pay support may be an ongoing or intermittent concern. For others, the need to seek enforcement is a more recent development. No matter the circumstances, when an obligor falls behind in support payments, it is important that you take measures to remedy the problem before payments become significantly past due.

Support obligations that have become past due are also referred to as ‘in arrears,’ and a past due amount is commonly referred to as ‘support arrearage.’ If you are an obligee and child or spousal support payments are currently in arrears, you may want to consider the option of seeking recovery of such arrearage through placing a lien on the obligor’s tax refund. However, because you may not know when an obligor will file a tax return, it is important that you protect your legal rights by discussing enforcement methods and procedures as far in advance from tax season as is possible.