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Child Support FAQ

What is child support?

Child support is a parent’s legal obligation to contribute to the economic maintenance and education of a child until the age of majority, the child’s emancipation before reaching majority, or the child’s completion of secondary education. -Black’s Law Dictionary

In Florida, child support may come into play when two parents no longer live with one another. The child support is paid by one parent to the other parent on a monthly basis.

When is child support awarded?

Child support can be awarded in actions for dissolution of marriage, actions to determine paternity, and actions for separate maintenance.

Child Support in Dissolution of Marriage

When one spouse files an action for Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce), child support may be awarded if the parties have minor children. The child support can be awarded at the end of the case as part of the final judgment. In some cases, however, the process of dissolution is long, leaving one party in need of child support during the divorce. In these situations, the party seeking the child support can file a motion and schedule a hearing, after which the court may award child support on a temporary basis pending the final resolution of the family law case.

Child Support in Paternity Actions

Section 742.011, Florida Statutes provides that any woman who is pregnant or has a child, any man who has reason to believe that he is the father of a child, or any child may bring proceedings in the circuit court to determine the paternity of the child when paternity has not been established by law or otherwise.

During these paternity proceedings, the court may award child support as part of the Final Judgment of Paternity. In addition, the court may issue a temporary order requiring the provision of child support pending a determination of paternity, if there is clear and convincing evidence of paternity on the basis of genetic tests or other evidence.

Child Support in Actions for Separate Maintenance

This situation usually occurs when two parents have decided to live separately, but are not yet ready to give up on their marriage by filing for divorce. One party is usually in need of child support and other financial support. Courts can award child support in an action for separate maintenance.

How much child support will be paid?

In Florida, the amount of child support that a person will pay is largely determined by the Florida Child Support Guidelines found in Chapter 61.13 of the Florida Statutes.

The guidelines contain a table that is used to arrive at the presumptive child support obligation of each parent. First, the monthly net income (after subtracting allowable deductions from gross income) of each parent is added to arrive at a number which is the combined monthly net income. Next, you use the guidelines table to factor in the number of children along with the combined monthly net income to arrive at a number on the table that is the parents’ combined basic monthly child support obligation. In order to apportion each parent’s basic monthly obligation, you divide the father’s monthly net income by the parties’ combined monthly net income to arrive at the father’s percentage or proportion of the combined basic monthly child support obligation, and then do the same for the mother to determine her percentage or proportion. Once the basic monthly child support obligation is factored for each parent, the guidelines then adjust for each parent’s contribution to child care, costs of health insurance, and uncovered health care costs to arrive at the total monthly child support obligation of each parent. If both parents spend at least 20% of overnights per year with the child, then this fact also becomes a factor in the calculation of child support.

In cases involving the support of minor children, the parties are required to file a “Child Support Guidelines Worksheet”, which is a mathematical calculation that takes into account all the following factors used to determine the amount of child support:

  • Mother’s monthly net income
  • Father’s monthly net income
  • Mother and Father’s combined monthly net income
  • Either party’s contribution to health and dental related expenses for the child
  • Either party’s contribution to child care expenses for the child
  • The amount of overnights the child spends with each parent if the child spends at least 20% of overnights per year with both parents

What is gross income?

Gross income includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Salary or wages
  • Bonuses, commissions, allowances, overtime, tips, and other similar payments
  • Business income from sources such as self-employment, partnership, close corporations, and independent contracts. “Business income” means gross receipts minus ordinary and necessary expenses required to produce income.
  • Disability benefits
  • All workers’ compensation benefits and settlements
  • Unemployment compensation
  • Pension, retirement, or annuity payments
  • Social security benefits
  • Spousal support received from a previous marriage or court ordered in the marriage before the court
  • Interest and dividends
  • Rental income, which is gross receipts minus ordinary and necessary expenses required to produce the income
  • Income from royalties, trusts, or estates
  • Reimbursed expenses or in kind payments to the extent that they reduce living expenses
  • Gains derived from dealings in property, unless the gain is nonrecurring

What is net income?

Net income of each party is obtained by subtracting allowable deductions from gross income. Allowable deductions include:

  • Federal, state, and local income tax deductions, adjusted for actual filing status and allowable dependents and income tax liabilities
  • Federal insurance contributions or self-employment tax
  • Mandatory union dues
  • Mandatory retirement payments
  • Health insurance payments, excluding payments for coverage of the minor child
  • Court-ordered support for other children which is actually paid
  • Spousal support paid pursuant to a court order from a previous marriage or the marriage before the court

Can a court award child support at an amount different than the Child Support Guidelines amount?

Courts are permitted to order child support that is more or less than the amount called for under the Child Support Guidelines; this is called deviation from the Child Support Guidelines. The party seeking the deviation must file a Motion to Deviate based on any of the following statutory factors:

  • Extraordinary medical, psychological, educational, or dental expenses
  • Independent income of the child, not to include moneys received by a child from supplemental security income
  • The payment of support for a parent which has been regularly paid and for which there is a demonstrated need
  • Seasonal variations in one or both parents’ incomes or expenses
  • The age of the child, taking into account the greater needs of older children
  • Special needs, such as costs that may be associated with the disability of a child, that have traditionally been met within the family budget even though fulfilling those needs will cause the support to exceed the presumptive amount established by the guidelines
  • Total available assets of the obligee, obligor, and the child
  • The impact of the Internal Revenue Service Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit, and dependency exemption and waiver of that exemption. The court may order a parent to execute a waiver of the Internal Revenue Service dependency exemption if the paying parent is current in support payments
  • An application of the child support guidelines schedule that requires a person to pay another person more than 55 percent of his or her gross income for a child support obligation for current support resulting from a single support order
  • The particular parenting plan, such as where the child spends a significant amount of time, but less than 20 percent of the overnights, with one parent, thereby reducing the financial expenditures incurred by the other parent; or the refusal of a parent to become involved in the activities of the child
  • Any other adjustment that is needed to achieve an equitable result which may include, but not be limited to, a reasonable and necessary existing expense or debt. Such expense or debt may include, but is not limited to, a reasonable and necessary expense or debt that the parties jointly incurred during the marriage

If any of these factors are found to be present, the court, at its discretion, may raise or lower the child support guidelines amount by up to 5%. However, if the court raises or lowers the guidelines support amount by more than 5%, then the court must provide written reasons the deviation.

If child support is ordered, how will it be paid?

When a court orders the payment of child support, Florida Statutes require that the payment be by income deduction order (IDO), unless it is temporary child support. In the case of temporary child support, the court may, but is not required to enter a income deduction order. An income deduction order is a court order to the obligor’s employer which requires the employer to deduct a specified amount from the obligor’s paycheck at specified periodic times. That amount is sent to the State Disbursement Unit where it will be distributed to the other parent.

Sometimes, however, the parties agree to a payment method other than an income deduction order, such as direct payment to the other parent or direct payment to the State Disbursement Unit. Although this type of payment method does occur, it is not favored by courts in cases in which the obligor parent is regularly employed. As a result, an income deduction order is the preferable method of paying child support obligations.

Is a parent entitled to receive “back” or retroactive child support for the period of time before they filed with the court?

A parent may be entitled to receive retroactive child support for a period of time before they filed a petition seeking support. Florida Statutes provide the court with discretion to award child support retroactive to the date when the parents did not reside together in the same household with the child, not to exceed a period of 24 months preceding the filing of the petition.

In determining retroactive child support, the court must consider all actual payments made by a parent to the other parent or the child or third parties for the benefit of the child throughout the proposed retroactive period. Furthermore, the court should consider an installment payment plan for the payment of retroactive child support because many obligor parents are unable to pay a large lump sum.

When does child support end?

  • In most cases, child support will end when any of the following occur:
  • The formerly minor child reaches majority
  • A minor child is legally adopted
  • A minor child is emancipated
  • A minor child marries
  • A minor child joins the armed services
  • A minor child dies

However, if there is a physical or mental incapacity of the child, or if the child is 18 or over but is still in high school and expected to graduate before the age of 19, then the payor parent may still have a child support obligation even after the child reaches majority.

Can child support be changed or modified after it has been awarded?

When a court enters a Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage or otherwise orders one party to pay child support, that person must comply with the terms of the child support order. However, either party can seek a modification of child support if there has been a substantial and unanticipated change in the circumstances of the parties since the entry of the Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage or Final Judgment of Paternity.

In Florida, child support is determined by child support guidelines which take into account both parents’ income to arrive at a presumptive amount of child support to be paid by the payor parent. As a result, at any time when either parent’s income changes substantially, either parent can seek an appropriate change (based on the child support guidelines) in child support obligations. However, the difference between the existing monthly obligation and the amount provided for under the guidelines shall be at least 15 percent or $50, whichever amount is greater, before the court may find that the guidelines provide a substantial change in circumstances.

In order to seek modification of an existing child support order, the person seeking to modify the child support will have to file a Supplemental Petition to Modify Final Judgment as to Child Support.

Do I need a lawyer?

As with any other aspect of a family law case, child support issues are complicated and many factors are taken into consideration by a judge when determining child support obligations. As a result, the guideline amount of a child support obligation is only the presumptive amount of child support that is to be paid. This means that the parties and their lawyers can argue other factors (such as amount of time spent with each parent) that may cause the judge to deviate from the guideline’s presumptive amount of child support. The family law judge has very broad discretion on the decisions he or she makes, and the judge can accept or reject the arguments of each party.

Another complicated and highly contested issue in child support disputes is the determination of income of each party. Many times, one party will attempt to minimize or conceal income so that their child support obligation is less. In addition, the determination of income is not always black and white, and whether or not a particular item is considered income is arguable. Hiring an experienced family lawyer will help protect you and your children’s rights when determining the proper income for child support purposes.

You should also keep in mind that as the family law case comes to an end and the amount of child support is set, it is often difficult to alter the amount of money that a party is obligated to pay. As a result, it is important to hire an experienced family law attorney so that you can protect your rights when it comes to the amount of child support that will be paid for years to come.

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