Child Support

Child support is a significant factor for most parents.  In Florida, parents have a responsibility to financially support their children according to their ability and the children’s needs.  The legislature has enacted a set of laws that outlines how child support should be calculated by the court in a mathematical approach.  The goal is to make the calculation of child support somewhat straightforward and predicable.

One thing to keep in mind is that while child support is usually one of the biggest concerns (and first questions people ask), it can’t accurately be calculated until many other factors have been established (ie, timesharing schedule, financial discovery of both parties, etc).  A good estimate can be made at any time, but keep in mind that the number will change as your case evolves.

How Child Support Is Calculated

In Florida, Child Support is largely based upon a mathematical formula set by the legislature.  The statute that outlines the basic child support formula is Florida Statute 61.30.  Judges do have discretion to exercise their own judgment in determining the support that is needed in the best interest of the children.

Significant and Common Factors That Influence Child Support

  • Number of children
  • Each Parent’s Income
  • Number of overnights the children spend with each parent
  • Health insurance costs (parents and children’s)
  • Out of pocket medical costs
  • Daycare expenses
  • Children with special needs

Child Support Guidelines Worksheet

The state has developed a form for parents who represent themselves to help calculate child support, it is call a Child Support Guidelines Worksheet (Form 12.902(e)) and can help you estimate the child support you could pay or receive.  Keep in mind that it is a guideline and the judge can make deviations from it.  If you feel you have any special circumstances that should increase or decrease support, you should discuss that with a family law attorney.

Other Factors That Influence Child Support

While the basic guidelines are great and work in many circumstances, there can be situations that would justify modifying child support either upwards or downwards.

Common Deviations

  • Fringe Benefits paid by Employer that Reduce Personal Expenses
  • Rental, Business, Investment or other Reoccurring Income
  • Spousal Support from a Previous Marriage
  • Tax Credits
  • Unemployed or Under Employed Parents
  • Special Needs of Children, disabilities, etc.

Imputing Income to Unemployed or Underemployed

Some people try to avoid paying child support by working in cash based businesses that have no record of income or by being voluntarily unemployed or underemployed.  Courts understand this and are allowed to impute a fair market income to parents for the purposes of calculating child support.

Child Support and The Florida State Department of Revenue

When a parent of a child applies for state financial assistance, the State will review the support obligations of the parents.  If child support has not been previously ordered, is not being paid or does not appear to be accurate, the State’s Department of Revenue can take legal action against a parent to obtain or modify child support or to enforce child support already ordered.  This can be done without the consent of either parent.

In Florida, the agency which does this is the Department of Revenue and they can be very effective and persistent in going after child support from a parent.  The department can make requests to seize tax returns, put holds on passports, suspend drivers licenses and (in extreme circumstances) even have parents jailed for failure to pay child support.

Paying or Receiving Child Support

If you have recently received an Order to pay or receive child support it is important to follow the order of the court.  Many recent orders now require that child support be withheld directly from the employees paycheck and submitted to the State who then transfers the money to the other parent.

If you are new to paying or receiving child support, we have some documents that provide some helpful tips about paying child support, tips about receiving child support and working with the Florida State Disbursement Unit.

Changing Existing Child Support

Circumstances change over time and the court system generally allows for child support to be recalculated if there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the last child support order.  A substantial change in circumstances would be something that would cause at least a $50 or 15 percent change to child support (whichever is higher).  The change should also be expected to be long-term or permanent.

Temporary or small changes in circumstances such as a small increase or decrease in wages or a temporary out of work situation is usually not enough to justify reopening the case with the court.

Termination of Child Support

Child support ends when the order of the court says it does.  Typically, child support ends when the child turns 18, graduates high school, joins the armed forces, is emancipated, adopted by another person or dies.  As with nearly every area of the law, there are exceptions and special circumstances.

These days, most Orders for child support will assign a date that child support ends (usually the later date of when the child turns 18 or graduates high school).  This is done to keep parents from having to come back to court to stop support when a child becomes an adult, but many orders made years ago do not have provisions for termination or modification when one or more children become emancipated.  If the child support order does not have any provisions for termination, the payor must go back to court to have the support terminated.

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