Provided below are answers to questions asked by the public regarding the constitutional and statutory duties, responsibilities, and services of Clerk of Circuit Court.
Q: I received a delinquency notice saying I am behind on my child support payments. I know I am up-to-date. Why has this happened and what do I do now?
A: In order for a Notice of Delinquency to be issued, the depository records of the Clerk of the Court must reflect that a payment is more than 15 days late. If you feel the Notice of Delinquency was issued in error, there are several things you can do.
You are stating that you know you are up-to-date, so the first thing you should do is call the depository, state that you received a Notice of Delinquency and you do not agree with the records. The depository clerk will access your case and review the records with you over the phone, if possible. Some cases are too involved for a phone review and you may be asked to bring your records or pay stubs, if your support is taken directly out of your paycheck, into the office for a more in depth review. There are a number of reasons why the depository records may not coincide with yours. These are just a few of the reasons:
- You have made payments directly to the custodial parent after the court ordered payments through the depository. Direct payments can be considered a gift and you may not be given the credit.
- You did not realize that you were responsible for making the payments until your employer started the deductions. Your employer has two weeks from the time they receive the court order until they have to start the deductions. That also applies when you change jobs. You must make the payments until your new employer starts deducting it from your check.
- There may be a change in circumstances that the depository is not aware of, such as a change in custody or the emancipation of a child. Always make the depository aware of any new court orders that affect your support payments.
- A payment has been remitted to the State Disbursement Unit but it is not posted on the depository records. Under these conditions the depository will request that the State Disbursement Unit research the payment. The Notice of Delinquency will be put on hold until the research has been completed. If speaking with the depository has not resolved the issue, you can contest the Notice of Delinquency and have a hearing before the judge assigned to your case. Some Clerk’s offices offer a pleading packet for a small fee for your convenience.
Please keep in mind that your motion to contest must be filed within 20 days of the date of the Notice of Delinquency. If it is not filed and your case still reflects a delinquent balance, a Judgment by Operation of Law will be entered into the public records.
Q: I am often asked what my duties are as County Auditor in relation to the Board of County Commissioners and my constituency.
A: The basic duties of the Clerk, as County Auditor, are to see that sound accounting practices are being followed, that internal controls over the county’s assets are adequate, and that the Board’s budgetary policies are being met. All warrants (checks) drawn on county depositories must be signed by the Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, attested by the Clerk, and affixed with the county seal. The Clerk is personally responsible for ensuring that every expenditure of funds is legal in every respect. Where this becomes more important is in the expenditure of funds designated for specific purposes, such as proceeds from bond issues, grants, and tax revenues for specific programs.
Franklin County collects an extra penny on the dollar sales tax for health care. These expenditures often involve vague areas that may not be clearly defined by statute or agreement. It is the role of the clerk to interpret these documents objectively and then evaluate the appropriateness of the expenditure. In this capacity, the Clerk may not always be in agreement with the County Executive or the Board. Nevertheless, it is the Clerk’s responsibility. While the appropriation of funds in the budget process and actions of the Board constitute the legal basis for expenditures, they do not supersede general law, as specified in the Florida Statutes, or legal agreements relating to grants, bonds, special taxes, etc. In short, as the watchdog of county funds, the Clerk is personally liable for the legitimacy and accuracy of your county’s expenditures.
Q: My elderly widowed aunt is having difficulty making daily decisions on her health care and finances. As I am the closest living relative, what can I do to protect her?
A: The Clerk’s office has noticed in the last few years a trend toward estate planning, setting up trusts, living wills and declarations of health care surrogates, etc. In the absence of estate planning, when a friend, physician, or relative has a concern that someone may take advantage of a person, they should consult a Florida Bar attorney familiar with the guardianship process. The attorney will decide if filing a petition to determine the loved one’s capacity and a petition to appoint a guardian with the court in the venue where they reside is in the best interest of the relative. The court appoints an examining committee and an attorney to represent the alleged incapacitated person at a hearing. As always, the Clerk’s office is available to explain the procedural aspects of the guardianship process in the event you are considering this option.
Q: My husband received a summons for jury duty. He is an independent building contractor, and if he isn’t around, the work doesn’t always get done properly or in a timely manner. What are acceptable reasons for dismissal from serving on the jury?
A: The criteria for exclusion from jury include:
- Being under prosecution for any crime.
- Having convictions in Florida, federal court, or any other state, territory, or county, of bribery, forgery, perjury, larceny or any other
- Holding public office as Governor, Lieutenant Governor, a Cabinet officer, Clerk of Court, or judge.
If none of these apply to your husband, there are other conditions which allow exemption from jury service if requested:
- Expectant mothers or parents who are not employed full-time and have custody of a child under the age of 6.
- Persons employed as full-time federal, state, or local law enforcement officers, or investigative personnel for these entities.
- Practicing attorneys or physicians, or persons who are physically infirm.
- Persons who have served as jurors in the county within the past 12 months.
- Persons who are 70 years of age or older.
- Persons who are responsible for the care of those who, because of mental illness or retardation, senility, or physical or mental incapacity, are incapable of caring for themselves.
None of these conditions applying, the judge does have discretion to excuse persons for reason of hardship or inconvenience. However, such excusals are carefully reviewed, and are not granted automatically. Please contact your clerk’s office for instruction on excusal.
Q: Is there a waiting period in the state of Florida for getting married after a couple applies for a marriage license? Are blood tests required, and do you have to apply in the county you live in? Can a minor apply for a license?
A: Yes and no. There is normally a 3-day waiting period as of January 1, 1999. However, if both parties have taken a 4-hour premarital preparation course given by a minister or counselor registered with the Clerk of the Circuit Court, the waiting period is waived, and the license fee is reduced.
- If only one applicant took the course, the waiting period is still required.
- If neither applicant is a Florida resident, the waiting period is not required.
- If one applicant is not a Florida resident, and the other is a Florida resident and has taken the premarital course, the waiting period is still required.
- Blood tests have not been required since this test was abolished October 1, 1986.
- A marriage license may be applied for and solemnized in any Florida county.
- Minors, who under oath, swear that they are parents or expectant parents of a child may apply. In addition, the pregnancy must be verified by a written statement from a licensed physician.
- A previously married minor may also apply.
- A person age 16 or 17 may apply with the consent of both parents or guardian, unless the parents are divorced and only one parent has full custody.
Q: My husband and I have mutually agreed on a divorce. We have heard the State of Florida has something called a “Simplified Divorce.” What is it and would we be eligible?
A: Simplified Divorce is a fast, easy and inexpensive procedure for ending a marriage for eligible couples.
To be eligible:
- Both must agree that the marriage cannot be saved.
- Both must agree on how to divide property and debts.
- There must be no minor children of the marriage, and the wife cannot be pregnant.
- At least one of you must have been a resident of Florida for the past six months.
Both parties must come to the Clerk of Circuit Court’s office with picture ID’s, and fill out a Petition for Simplified Dissolution of Marriage. Forms are available in the Clerk’s office. An attorney is not required, but if either of you has any legal questions, consulting an attorney prior to filing is advised. A hearing to finalize the divorce will be scheduled as soon as possible after a 20 day waiting period. Both parties must appear at the hearing. The final judgment is then taken by both parties to the Circuit Civil Division of the Clerk’s office.
Q: I am interested in finding out the history of a parcel of land I am thinking about purchasing. How can I get this information?
A: You can research the history of any property at the office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court. The act of recording public documents is one that the Clerk has performed since given the duty in the State Constitution of 1832. This includes keeping records of land transactions. A common question we all may have asked at some point when buying property is, “what are recording charges?” Every county in every state across the nation has property records detailing the transfer of lands. Each time a land transaction takes place it is “recorded” in the Official Records of the county in which the property is located. This method provides public notice so that anyone who looks in the county’s Official Records can see who owns, or has an interest in, a property. Your mortgage company or bank wants to make sure that others know that it has loaned you money to buy that piece of property. In most counties you can trace the ownership of property back to the early 1900’s. Prior to that, record of certain lands could be difficult to find as not all counties had the boundaries they now have. For instance, Orange County was once called Mosquito County and encompassed parts of other counties, such as Seminole. The recording fees paid at closing go to the Clerk’s Office to pay the statutory fees for officially recording the transfer of your newly sold or purchased property and those fees pay for the systems the Clerks use to provide the required public notice of who owns which piece of property. Your transaction then resides in the Official Records and provides a link in history for anyone who comes after you.
Q: I am interested in bidding on a piece of foreclosed property that is being auctioned by the Clerk’s office. What do I need to do? Also, how can I get a list of properties being auctioned?
A: You may obtain a list of properties to be auctioned due to foreclosure in person at the Clerk of Court’s office, Civil Department. That list may also be accessed on the Internet in many counties. You should come to the Clerk’s office on the day of the sale and register with the Clerk. Chapter 45, Florida Statutes, requires that a bidder other than the judgment holder must present a good faith deposit of 5% of your projected bid in cash or cashier’s check in order to confirm a bid. You may contact the Civil Division of the Clerk’s office for a written policy regarding foreclosure sales.
Q: I hear the county is considering rezoning some property close to my neighborhood. I would like to attend the County Commission meeting when this matter gets discussed. How can I find out the Commission’s agenda?
A: It is the duty of the Clerk’s office to provide public notice of the County Commission’s agenda. The Clerk is also responsible for taking and recording the minutes of the County Commission meetings. In larger counties which have an Administrator, he or she may be the one to handle this duty. In smaller counties, the Clerk may attend the meetings and act as secretary. At the meetings, the Clerk or Administrator also handles speaker requests cards, and receives documents that need to go into the records. Varying from county to county, this information may be accessed on a website, if available in your county, in a local paper, on a local TV station, or directly from the Clerk’s office. Contact your local Clerk’s office if you want to know the best way to get information about your Board of County Commissioner meetings.
Q: Ten years ago I received a judgment against someone who owed me money, and a lien for that amount was placed on their house. They recently sold their house, but my lien was not on record. What gives?
A: When your judgment lien was recorded in the Official Records of your county, it remained on the record for a period of 7 years. At the end of those 7 years, a certified copy of your judgment needed to be re-recorded, along with an affidavit containing your current address. Each time you recorded your judgment it was for a period of 7 years, and could have been re-recorded every 7 years up to 20 years. The re-recording would have to be done within the 90-day period immediately preceding the expiration of the lien. If your lien was still current and a title search was done on the property prior to the sale, the title company would locate the lien information, verify that the lien was valid and notify the seller. The sale could not have taken place until your lien was satisfied. Because your lien was not re-recorded, your lien was not considered to be valid. As a result, you were not notified and sent the money due you. Beginning July 1, 2001, the effective time period will be extended from 7 to 10 years before a judgment must be re-recorded. The total effective period will still be no longer than 20 years. Any judgment recorded prior to July 1, 1987 will not be affected by this change.
Q: I have some legal issues and cannot afford an attorney. I have heard that there are some forms that I can use to file a court proceeding that I fill out myself. How do I get these forms and how can I make sure I fill them out properly?
A: There are over 80 different self-help, or pro se, legal forms available relating to the following categories:
- Dissolution of Marriage
- Miscellaneous Petition
- Injunction for Protection
- Service and Notice
- Documents Requesting Information From Opposing Party
- Child Support
- Miscellaneous Motions and Documents
- Stepparent Adoption
- Landlord and Tenant
- Residential Leases
Some of these forms are also available on the Internet at: www.flcourts.org at the Self Help Center. Additionally, on this website is a listing of the entities that provide legal aid for people who cannot afford an attorney. If you need help filling out the forms or finding a phone number for the nearest legal assistance office, call the Clerk’s Office and ask where assistance is available.
Q: My teen-aged daughter received a ticket from a Florida Game & Freshwater Fish Commission law enforcement officer for careless operation of a jet ski and for not wearing her life jacket. How does she take care of this?
A: Boating violations are being treated more and more like traffic violations. Your daughter must go to the office of the Clerk of Court in the county where the infraction occurred. If the body of water on which she received the citation straddles two counties, check the ticket to see which county she was cited in. Generally, a simple boating infraction results in a civil penalty of $50 plus applicable court costs. The Clerk of Court will tell you exactly how much to pay. Currently, a boating violation must be paid within 10 days of the date on the citation. As with a traffic ticket, if you choose to go to court and contest the ticket, you waive your right to be limited to the civil penalty and can be assessed a fine of up to $500. Anyone receiving two or more boating infractions within a 12-month period may be required to attend a boating safety course.
Q: My nephew from South Carolina recently got a speeding ticket in Apalachicola. He has lost the ticket and doesn’t know how to take care of it.
A: It is always distressing to get a traffic ticket when traveling, but the Clerk of Court’s office can help. When a ticket is issued, a copy is sent to the Clerk within several days. Please have your nephew call the Clerk of Court’s office in Franklin County. The Traffic Division can tell him the amount, the method of payment, and how quickly it must be paid to prevent him from incurring further penalties. It is important to pay out-of-state tickets, as they will show up on your driver license record.
Q: I ran a stop sign the other day and went to pay the ticket at the Clerk’s office. I was curious about where traffic ticket money ends up.
A: The money from traffic infractions is used in a variety of ways. The majority of the dollars and cents stays in the city or county where the ticket is written. The rest of the fine money is distributed to the state for general revenue and a variety of state trust funds and programs, such as: Emergency Medical Services, Brain and Spinal Cord Rehabilitation, Florida Endowment, Child Welfare Training, Juvenile Justice, foster care citizen review panels, Nongame Wildlife studies and state criminal justice programs. The Clerk of Court only retains a half of one percent. The percentage of money received from traffic tickets to be applied to each of the various funds is established by the Legislature, and it is the statutory responsibility of the Clerk of Court to see that the monies are properly distributed.