The Family Law Source - Linda Braithwaite - Divorce Lawyer Child Support a more peaceful path.

The Family Law Source - Linda Braithwaite - Divorce Lawyer Child Support a more peaceful path.

Child Support Lawyer

In Florida, every child under the age of 18 (or through the date of graduation from high school if graduation will occur prior to the child’s 19th birthday) has the right to receive ongoing financial support from both parents. You also have choices when it comes to establishing, enforcing or modifying child support. If child support is part of your initial divorce or paternity case, it will be established by the family court during those initial proceedings.

Judges are bound by the current version of the Florida Child Support Guidelines to calculate a child support obligation and payment. When child support is an issue in a court case, parents are required to file and exchange financial affidavits verifying individual income and expenses, and then complete a Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. The basic child support obligation is based on the number of children, the parenting plan and the parents’ combined net incomes—gross income minus allowable deductions.

Gross income includes most types of earned or unearned income. Common examples are wages, commissions, self-employment income, bonuses, alimony, dividend or interest income, rent, worker’s compensation or unemployment insurance benefits, and pension or retirement benefits. Allowable deductions include such things as income tax payments, certain health insurance premiums, mandatory union dues, mandatory retirement payments (i.e. teachers or other professions participating in the Florida Retirement System), social security and medicare payments, alimony payments, and court-ordered child support payments for children from other relationships.

The monthly cost of health care for the children, including health insurance premiums and non-covered medical, dental and prescription medication costs, as well as the cost of monthly child care either parent requires to be able to work, will be added to the basic support obligation. Responsibility for these items is divided between the parents based on their respective incomes without adjustment for parenting time, regardless of whether you are using the basic method or the gross up method.

Deviations

In some cases one parent may have a reason for requesting a support amount that differs from the guideline amount (called a “deviation”). A court might find that a deviation is fair if, for example, the child has extraordinary expenses related to education, special needs, or medical needs, or if one of the parents has extraordinary parenting time expenses such as air travel, or unreimbursed medical, disability, or employment-related expenses. Courts will also consider whether or not a child has an independent source of income (not including supplemental security income) or whether either parent has significant assets available (not included in income) which could be used to pay support. The guidelines contain a detailed list of factors that a court may consider, but these factors are not exclusive; a court may consider making any adjustment necessary to achieve a fair result.

Imputing Income

Sadly, some parents try to avoid their child support obligation by quitting a job or failing to conduct an adequate job search. For example, one parent might quit a good paying, highly-skilled job to take a lower paying position under the mistaken belief that this will relieve them of their child support or alimony obligation. Florida courts have taken a very strong public policy position against this kind of behavior and as a result, if a court finds that either parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, it may impute income to that parent based on the parent’s employment potential in light of recent work history, occupational qualifications, and prevailing earnings levels in the community.

If a parent refuses to participate in a child support hearing or doesn’t produce adequate information regarding income and finances at the hearing, the court will automatically impute income to the parent, unless it finds that the parent needs to stay home with the child (because the child is a young infant or is disabled, for example). If there is no proof of the actual income the parent would be able to earn, the court will apply a rebuttable presumption that the income would be equivalent to the median income of a year-round full-time worker according to reports of the United States Census Bureau.

Modification and Termination

Once a court has made an initial child support order, a parent who wants to modify (change) the order must show a substantial and ongoing change in circumstances. Some examples of changes that might justify modification would be one parent getting a much higher paying job or a parent making a permanent change in the number of days/nights per week that each of them spends with a child. Generally, Florida courts won’t consider a modification unless the difference between an existing award and the amount determined by a new analysis and application of the current guidelines would be at least 15%, or at least $50, whichever amount is greater.

Using the Florida Department of Revenue

It may be more cost effective to utilize the services of the Florida Department of Revenue (DOR). The upsides of using this service is that it is at no cost to the parent seeking to establish, enforce or modify support whereas attorneys fees will be incurred if using a private attorney. The downside is the amount of time it takes for DOR to respond and follow through.

The DOR’s support program is available to help children get the financial support they need when it is not received from one or both parents. Grandparents or other relatives caring for a child is able to use this service as well. Services are even available if a parent lives in another state or country.
Some of the services performed by DOR are as follows:

  • Locate parents and assets
  • Establish paternity
  • Establish and modify child support orders
  • Monitor and take action to help parents comply with child support orders
  • Receive and distribute child support payments

Keep in mind however, that DOR cannot assist with parenting plans.

For a full look at the child support statute, refer to §61.30 Florida Statutes.