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Brevard County Florida

Florida Child Support: What You Need to Know

child support in Florida

November 4, 2021

Child support is a financial obligation imposed by a court on a parent to provide for their children’s care, maintenance, training, and education. Child support in Florida is the obligation of both parents, regardless of their relationship status (single/married/divorced/). According to Florida child support law, parents are not permitted to renounce their child support responsibilities and owe a legal and moral obligation to support their minor child.

The amount of child support in Florida is determined in accordance with the Child Support Guidelines. The amount is generally determined by the parents’ income, custody (now known as time-sharing) rights, and the number of children involved in the case. In the vast majority of cases, the Florida Child Support Guidelines will be strictly enforced by the court. However, the judge has the authority to vary from the Guidelines in certain circumstances.

Learning about the Child Support processes in Florida is essential before going through a divorce or separation. Therefore, we have compiled the information you need to understand your rights and responsibilities as a parent and streamline the process of determining child support. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the Family Law aspects of child support in Florida.

Child Support: What It Entails in Florida?

Child support is a monetary sum that one parent gives to the other parent to support the child and meet their daily requirements such as clothing, food, and housing, among other things when the parents are no longer living together in the same household. 

All child support payments are intended to be used solely for the benefit of the child receiving them. However, some benefits may flow to the non-paying parent in certain situations. For example, child support payments may cover the following expenses.

  • Basic Living Expense: Expenses for food and clothing are essential in addition to weekly grocery, budget for eating out, school lunches, and clothing purchasing on a regular basis.  Having funds to pay for housing, transportation, and utilities is also included.
  • Educational Expenses: Tuition, clothes, books, supplies, and extracurricular activities may all be paid for in the child support in Florida, or paid in addition to basic child support. 
  • Medical Expenses: This amount covers all out-of-pocket medical expenses that are essential to keep a child in good health and is generally shared by the parents on a pro-rata basis 
  • Other Expenses: Ensuring a healthy and positive lifestyle entails more than just good food, education, and health. So, keep in mind to account for expenses such as summer camps, swimming lessons, and movie tickets.

Determining the Child Support Amount

Child support will almost certainly be paid even if the child spends equal time with each parent. Child support is usually provided unless both parents earn the same amount of money and have equal custody/time-sharing. Judges employ the most recent version of the Florida Child Support Guidelines to calculate child support payments in Florida (See Title VI, Chapter 61.30 of the Florida Statutes.)

For cases in which child support is at issue, parents are expected to file and exchange financial affidavits establishing their individual income and spending, as well as complete a Child Support Guidelines Worksheet before the case may proceed.

The suitable financial affidavit will be determined by the income of the parents. Form 902(b) is for parents with an annual gross income of less than $50,000, while Form 902(c) is for parents with an annual gross income of $50,000 or more. The basic child support obligation is calculated based on the number of children and the parents’ combined net incomes.

Net income is calculated by subtracting the amount of allowable deductions from gross income.

  • Gross Income: Most types of earned and unearned income are included in gross income. Wages, commissions, self-employment income, bonuses, spousal support, dividend or interest income, rent, workers’ compensation or unemployment insurance payments, disability, and pension or retirement benefits are all examples of common sources of income.
  • Allowable Deductions: Federal, state, and local income tax deductions, social security payments, union dues, certain health insurance premiums, obligatory retirement payments, Medicare costs, spousal support, and court-ordered child support payments for other children are all examples of allowable deductions.

Forms 902(b) and (c) detail exactly which items must be included in gross income and which items can be deducted in order to arrive at your individual net income, as well as how much of each item you can deduct.

Each parent’s net monthly income is divided by the combined net monthly income to determine their percentage share of the child support obligation. The actual dollar portion of each parent’s total minimum child support obligation is calculated by multiplying the minimum child support obligation by each parent’s percentage share of the combined monthly net income.

Shared Custody Child Support

The basic calculation discussed above will give you a support amount that the noncustodial parent will pay the custodial parent when one parent has primary custody while the other parent has visitation of 20% of overnights or less. Courts assume that the custodial parent’s portion is already allocated to the direct costs of child-rearing.

You will need to perform additional calculations for shared custody if your parenting plan includes significant timesharing, with each parent having the children for at least 20% of the year’s overnights. The guidelines adopt a “gross-up” strategy in these cases since total expenditures for raising children are higher when both parents maintain separate houses for children.

The court normally uses a four-step analysis to establish the amount of child support in cases involving shared custody. The first step is to analyze the Guidelines to determine the entire amount of child support that is due. The court will next decide on each parent’s portion. The share of each parent is calculated by dividing their monthly income by the combined monthly income of both parents. 

The court will then calculate the percentage of time each parent has custody of the child. For example, if the parents share custody 50/50, their liability will be split 50/50. The fourth step is to look over the Child Support Guidelines to see how much each parent is responsible. The overall child support in Florida will be proportioned by the percentage of time each parent has custody of the child. Adjusting parenting time calculations can be tricky, and you may need to seek legal advice.

Additional computations will be required if the total monthly net income exceeds the $10,000 limit set forth in the Guidelines. The amount over $10,000 will be determined by the number of children and the amount of income that exceeds $10,000.

Deviation from Florida Child Support Guidelines

When determining the amount of support, the judge will frequently refer to the Florida Child Support Guidelines. However, if the facts merit it, the court has the authority to deviate from the Guidelines.

Child support, in any case, must be reasonable and not force a parent to pay more than they can afford. The court will consider all relevant factors when deciding whether to depart from the Guidelines. These criteria include, but are not limited to, the child’s needs, the style of living, each parent’s age, and each parent’s financial situation. A written explanation will be sought if the Court deviates from the Child Support Guidelines by more than 5%.

The amount of child support can be specified and agreed upon by both parents. However, the amount of assistance must be in the child’s best interests. Child support agreements must be approved by a Florida family law court. The agreements will only be allowed if they ensure that the child is properly cared for and maintained.

Special Scenarios: A Deeper Look at Child Support

Scenarios related to child support are not always straightforward. Here are some common scenarios that may affect the child support order.  

Children Born Later

If a parent is ordered to pay child support, the amount of support necessary for subsequent children may be affected. The payment of a previously ordered child support obligation can be subtracted from the parent’s gross income when calculating Florida child support for subsequently born children. It’s important to note that this only applies to a child support order. As a result, the deduction will not apply if a parent is willingly providing assistance without a court order.

Adjustments to the Guidelines may be based on a parent’s necessary expenses under Florida child support law. These situations can be difficult to navigate and necessitate a detailed understanding of Florida child support laws. Therefore, it is advisable to seek legal assistance in such a case.

Parents Living In Different States

The court may have jurisdictional concerns when parents live in different states. The court may not have the jurisdiction to enforce the support if the lawsuit is not filed correctly. As a result, in situations like these, it’s critical to consult the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA).

Each state is obligated by federal law to have the UIFSA in place to execute child support orders. The UIFSA ensures that child support processes are consistent across states. It also allows for the implementation of child support orders issued by other countries.

The Florida Department of Revenue can also help with child support collection. Wages can be garnished, a driver’s license can be suspended, and federal income tax refunds can be withheld by the Florida Department of Revenue. If the party that must pay is not a Florida resident, the Department can help by coordinating with other states with jurisdiction.

Retroactive Child Support

In Florida, you may owe back child support. Meaning, a parent has the right to collect child support retroactively under Florida law. In most cases, retroactive child support will begin when the parents no longer live together in the same house. In Florida, the period for retroactive child support cannot exceed 24 months.

In some circumstances, the mother may claim child support beginning with the child’s birth date. Additionally, even after the child reaches the age of 18, a parent may be able to sue for retroactive child support.

The Florida Child Support Guidelines are used to determine the amount of child support to be paid. This might be challenging in retroactive child support situations since the parent’s income may have changed throughout the time when child support should have been paid. For example, if a parent received raises, was laid off, or was not working during different periods throughout the course of the 24 months, the Court may have to make different decisions regarding the amount for each period.  ’’  It is up to the parents to provide the Court the evidence to make these decisions, which can be fact-intensive and benefit from the assistance of a family law attorney.

During the retroactive period, all payments paid by the parent owing the duty to pay can be considered. Retroactive child support is usually added to future child support payments on a monthly basis until it is paid off.

Child Support Modification

Following the issuance of an initial child support order, a parent seeking to modify the order must demonstrate that there has been a significant change in circumstances. Here are a few examples.

  • Change in Income: If a parent’s income has increased or decreased, the amount of support paid may be adjusted accordingly. In most cases, a large shift in income will necessitate at least a 10% increase or decrease in income. Keep in mind that even if your income has decreased, this does not necessarily imply that your support payments will reduce as well. For example, the opposing party’s income may have decreased as well, and that decline may have been more significant.
  • Permanent Adjustment: If the timesharing agreement has altered, it is possible that child support will have to be adjusted as well. In general, the more time a parent spends with their child, the lesser the amount of child support they will be required to pay. If the number of overnights spent with the children is increased, it is possible that the amount of support provided will be reduced and vice versa. 
  • Disability or Education-Based Agreements:  According to Florida law, all child support orders made on or after October 1, 2010, must indicate that child support would terminate when a child reaches the age of 18. However, if the child cannot live independently due to mental or physical inability that began before the age of 18, or if the child between the ages of 18 and 19 is still in high school and reasonably expected to graduate before the age of 19, a court may order continued child support past the age of 18.

For the purpose of petitioning for a modification of child support, you must file a Supplemental Petition for Modification of Child Support. It is advisable to consult with an attorney and examine all of the circumstances of the 
child support case. It is likely that a thorough evaluation will be required in order to design a viable plan to modify child support.

However, keep in mind that if the difference between an existing award and the amount established by new analysis and application of current rules is less than 15%, the disparity will not necessarily warrant a change in the support order in Florida.

Income Imputation

Many parents attempt to dodge their child support obligations by abandoning their jobs or failing to perform a thorough job search. For example, one parent may mistakenly believe that quitting a well-paying, highly-skilled profession to take a lower-paying job will relieve them of their child support responsibility. The courts in Florida have taken a hard stance against this type of behavior.

Suppose a court determines that one of the parents is voluntarily jobless or underemployed. In that case, the court may impute income to that parent based on the parent’s employment potential as determined by recent work experience, qualifications, and salary levels.

To impute income, the family law judge must make precise factual findings based on information about the current work market, the parent’s employment history, and other factors. The parent requesting that income be imputed to the other parent has the burden of proving these factors to the Court.  If the court’s imputation of income is supported by competent, substantial evidence, it will not be reversed on appeal unless the court abused its discretion.  This can be a complicated process, and the help of a family law attorney is recommended, as discussed below.

Understanding the Process of Income Imputation

In most matters involving alleged income imputation, the court will use a two-part test:

  1. It must be established that the lack of a job or income reduction was voluntary. 
  2. The court must determine whether the parent’s loss of income is due to a less than meticulous and genuine effort to obtain employment at a level equal to what the parent could earn.

In most cases, Florida courts are unconcerned about whether the parent left their former job freely or involuntarily. Instead, the focus is on what the parent has accomplished since his or her last job. Has the parent, for example, remained unemployed willingly or made a genuine good faith effort to obtain work?

The burden of proof will be on the child support lawyer trying to impute income. Based on the two-part test, the lawyer must prove that income should be imputed to the other parent. This makes it important to work with experienced attorneys to present a strong case, safeguard your rights, and ensure that decisions are in the child’s best interest.

Child Support Enforcement

Florida has fairly rigorous child support rules to guarantee that a parent pays the proper amount of child support. When it comes to enforcing child support, a parent might employ a variety of measures. The Florida Department of Revenue or a private child support law firm may be able to assist a parent.

A court in Florida has the authority to garnish earnings as a means of enforcing child support obligations. A wage garnishment deducts monies from the payer’s salary automatically, and in child support cases is called an Income Withholding Order. Garnishment can happen on a regular basis and last as long as the child support obligation is in place, or longer if there are arrearages left to pay. Furthermore, the head of household defense to garnishments does not apply to child support orders.

Child support payments can also be deducted from tax returns. The court can also rule that the exemption be assigned to the payee on a permanent or rotational basis. The tax exemption for dependents might be rather large. As a result, failing to comply with a child support order might result in a hefty penalty in some situations.

Failure to pay child support in Florida can also result in the suspension of a driver’s license. The payor’s professional license can also be suspended under Florida Statute 61.13015. However, the suspension can be lifted if it would cause irreparable damage to the payor and would not assist in achieving the goal of collecting payment. In addition, if a good faith effort is made to make payments, the court may decline to suspend the license.

Contempt for Failure to Pay Child Support

Failure to comply with a court order of support can result in civil or criminal contempt. However, civil contempt is employed far more frequently than criminal contempt. To be found guilty of criminal contempt, the evidence must show that the defendant has the ability to pay and that his or her failure to pay is willful and intentional.  

If you are found guilty of criminal contempt for failing to pay, you may be ordered to serve no more than 180 days in jail. Rather than being a punishment, the detention is intended to induce payment of the funds owed. As a result, a court will frequently dismiss a contempt charge if the offender pays a certain amount.  The payor must be “given the keys to the jail cell” by being offered the opportunity to pay a purge, which is an amount the Court determines the payor has the ability to pay.

Reach Out to Family Law Attorneys at Legal Eagles

Mario Gunde Peters & Kelley, the Legal Eagles family law attorneys, have extensive experience advocating for and against child support. We recognize the importance of these issues and work hard for our clients to ensure results in your child’s best interest. Contact us today to find out how our team can assist you.

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