RULE 12.491. CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT
(a) Limited Application. This rule shall be effective only when specifically invoked by administrative order of the chief justice for use in a particular county or circuit.
(b) Scope. This rule shall apply to proceedings for
(1) the establishment, enforcement, or modification of child support, or
(2) the enforcement of any support order for the custodial parent in conjunction with an ongoing child support or child support arrearage order, when a party seeking support is receiving services pursuant to Title IV-D of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. §§ 651 et seq.) and to non-Title IV-D proceedings upon administrative order of the chief justice.
(c) Support Enforcement Hearing Officers. The chief judge of each judicial circuit shall appoint such number of support enforcement hearing officers for the circuit or any county within the circuit as are necessary to expeditiously perform the duties prescribed by this rule. A hearing officer shall be a member of The Florida Bar unless waived by the chief justice and shall serve at the pleasure of the chief judge and a majority of the circuit judges in the circuit.
(d) Referral. Upon the filing of a cause of action or other proceeding for the establishment, enforcement, or modification of support to which this rule applies, the court or clerk of the circuit court shall refer such proceedings to a support enforcement hearing officer, pursuant to procedures to be established by administrative order of the chief judge.
(e) General Powers and Duties. The support enforcement hearing officer shall be empowered to issue process, administer oaths, require the production of documents, and conduct hearings for the purpose of taking evidence. A support enforcement hearing officer does not have the authority to hear contested paternity cases. Upon the receipt of a support proceeding, the support enforcement hearing officer shall:
(1) assign a time and place for an appropriate hearing and give notice to each of the parties as may be required by law;
(2) take testimony and establish a record, which record may be by electronic means as provided by Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.070(d);
(3) accept voluntary acknowledgment of paternity and support liability and stipulated agreements setting the amount of support to be paid; and
(4) evaluate the evidence and promptly make a recommended order to the court. Such order shall set forth findings of fact.
(f) Entry of Order and Relief from Order. Upon receipt of a recommended order, the court shall review the recommended order and shall enter an order promptly unless good cause appears to amend the order, conduct further proceedings, or refer the matter back to the hearing officer to conduct further proceedings. Any party affected by the order may move to vacate the order by filing a motion to vacate within 10 days from the date of entry. Any party may file a cross-motion to vacate within 5 days of service of a motion to vacate, provided, however, that the filing of a cross-motion to vacate shall not delay the hearing on the motion to vacate unless good cause is shown. A motion to vacate the order shall be heard within 10 days after the movant applies for hearing on the motion.
(g) Modification of Order. Any party affected by the order may move to modify the order at any time.
(h) Record. For the purpose of hearing on a motion to vacate, a record, substantially in conformity with this rule, shall be provided to the court by the party seeking review.
(1) The record shall consist of the court file, including the transcript of the proceedings before the hearing officer, if filed, and all depositions and evidence presented to the hearing officer.
(2) The transcript of all relevant proceedings shall be delivered to the judge and provided to opposing counsel not less than 48 hours before the hearing on the motion to vacate. If less than a full transcript of the proceedings taken before the hearing officer is ordered prepared by the moving party, that party shall promptly file a notice setting forth the portions of the transcript that have been ordered. The responding party shall be permitted to designate any additional portions of the transcript necessary to the adjudication of the issues raised in the motion to vacate or cross-motion to vacate.
(3) The cost of the original and all copies of the transcript of the proceedings shall be borne initially by the party seeking review, subject to appropriate assessment of suit monies. Should any portion of the transcript be required as a result of a designation filed by the responding party, the party making the designation shall bear the initial cost of the additional transcript.
1998 Amendment. This rule shall not apply to proceedings to establish or modify alimony.
1995 Adoption. Previously, this rule was contained in Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.491. The new rule is substantially the same as previous rule 1.491, with the following additions.
It is intended that any administrative order issued by the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court under rule 1.491(a) shall remain in full force and effect as though such order was rendered under this rule until changed by order of that same court.
Subdivision (e) now makes clear that contested paternity cases are not to be heard by support enforcement hearing officers.
Subdivision (h) has been added to provide requirements for a record.
The following notes and commentary have been carried forward from rule 1.491.
1988 Adoption. Title: The terminology "hearing officer" is used rather than "master" to avoid confusion or conflict with rule 1.490.
Subdivision (a): The rule is intended as a fall back mechanism to be used by the chief justice as the need may arise.
Subdivision (b): The expedited process provisions of the applicable federal regulations apply only to matters which fall within the purview of Title IV-D. The committee recognizes, however, that the use of hearing officers could provide a useful case flow management tool in non-Title IV-D support proceedings.
It is contemplated that a circuit could make application to the chief justice for expansion of the scope of the rule upon a showing of necessity and good cause. It is the position of the representative of the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar that reference of non-Title IV-D proceedings should require the consent of the parties as is required by rule 1.490(c).
Subdivision (c): It is the position of the committee that hearing officers should be members of the Bar in that jurisdictional and other legal issues are likely to arise in proceedings of this nature. The waiver provision is directed to small counties in which it may be difficult or impossible to find a lawyer willing to serve and to such other special circumstances as may be determined by the chief justice.
Subdivision (d): This paragraph recognizes that the mechanics of reference and operation of a program are best determined at the local level.
Subdivision (e): This paragraph is intended to empower the hearing officer to fully carry out his or her responsibilities without becoming overly complicated. The authority to enter defaults which is referred to in the federal regulations is omitted, the committee feeling that the subject matter is fully and adequately covered by rule 1.500.
The authority to accept voluntary acknowledgments of paternity is included at the request of the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. Findings of fact are included in the recommended order to provide the judge to whom the order is referred basic information relating to the subject matter.
Subdivision (f): Expedited process is intended to eliminate or minimize delays which are perceived to exist in the normal processing of cases. This paragraph is intended to require the prompt entry of an order and to guarantee due process to the obligee.
General Note: This proposed rule, in substantially the same form, was circulated to each of the chief judges for comment. Five responses were received. Two responding endorsed the procedure, and 3 responding felt that any rule of this kind would be inappropriate. The committee did not address the question of funding, which included not only salaries of hearing officers and support personnel, but also capital outlay for furniture, fixtures, equipment and space, and normal operating costs. The committee recognizes that the operational costs of such programs may be substantial and recommends that this matter be addressed by an appropriate body.
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