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Calculating Child Support in Florida

Calculating Child Support in Florida and Receiving the Support Your Child Needs

Child Support in Florida

In this article, we’ll break down: 

The most important decisions a couple makes during their divorce involve how to share the responsibility of caring for their children.

Whether your divorce case is simple or complex, you and your spouse will need to come to an agreement about how to work together to support the financial needs of raising your children – in Florida, addressing these financial needs is known as child support.

What You Need to Know About Child Support in Florida

Child support is the financial support required of both parents for the care, education, and other obligations that come with raising their child. In Florida, it’s considered by law to be a legal and moral duty and cannot be waived.

When you’re in the beginning stages of the divorce process, take the time to understand the established set of Florida Child Support Guidelines. These guidelines serve as the foundation for child support laws in the state. The court strictly enforces them as they make decisions about how much child support you or your ex-spouse owe to the other.

As you get started, it won’t take you long to see how complicated child support can get. To help you make sense of an often-confusing process, we created this outline to help you understand child support and receive the support you need.

Calculating Child Support Payments in Florida

A lot of factors go into calculating child support. In Florida, the cost of specific expenses, both parents’ net income, the number of children and the number of nights the child spends at each parent’s home are all factors in the final dollar figure you’ll pay towards child support.

Child support typically covers the following items:

Food and Clothing. This includes groceries, eating out at restaurants, school meals, and all of the child’s clothing.

Medical Expenses. Costs necessary for a child’s health including doctor’s visits, deductibles, and additional services.

Education. Costs including tuition (including college), school supplies, activities, uniforms for school and sports, and more.

Activities and Entertainment. Any extracurricular activities, hobbies, outings, and expenses for fun activities should be considered.

Additional Expenses as Applicable. Other expenses that you and your spouse agree on can be included in child support payment. However, if your ex-spouse decides to voluntarily take the child on vacation, for instance, that expense would fall solely on them.

How much each parent pays towards the total cost of these expenses includes a number of factors that can quickly become confusing to calculate. Work with an experienced Florida child support attorney when it’s time to calculate the amount of child support you’ll either pay or receive.

The Four Steps to Calculate Child Support with Shared Custody

The court will go through a four-step analysis when calculating support for parents who share custody of their children.

Step 1. Determine the total amount of child support required. This is calculated using the Florida Child Support Guidelines.

Step 2: Determine each parents’ share of child support based on the guidelines.

Step 3: Determine the percentage of time each parent has custody.

Step 4: Determine each parent’s share of the support.

Step four, in particular, requires a good deal of familiarity and understanding of the Florida Child Support Guidelines. To understand the amount and duration of child support you’re entitled to, contact an experienced Florida child support lawyer.

What Should You Do if Your Needs are Not Met by the Amount of Support You’re Set to Receive?

The court may deviate from the Guidelines if they decide it’s warranted. If you feel that you’re not receiving the amount of support you need, the court may consider a second review.

From Florida Statute 61.30:

11 (a) The court may adjust the total minimum child support award, or either or both parents’ share of the total minimum child support award, based upon the following deviation factors:
1. Extraordinary medical, psychological, educational, or dental expenses.
2. Independent income of the child, not to include moneys received by a child from supplemental security income.
3. The payment of support for a parent which has been regularly paid and for which there is a demonstrated need.
4. Seasonal variations in one or both parents’ incomes or expenses.
5. The age of the child, taking into account the greater needs of older children.
6. 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.
7. Total available assets of the obligee, obligor, and the child.
8. The impact of the Internal Revenue Service Child & 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.
9. 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.
10. The particular parenting plan, a court-ordered time-sharing schedule, or a time-sharing arrangement exercised by agreement of the parties, 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.
11. 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.
(b) Whenever a particular parenting plan, a court-ordered time-sharing schedule, or a time-sharing arrangement exercised by agreement of the parties provides that each child spend a substantial amount of time with each parent, the court shall adjust any award of child support, as follows:
1. In accordance with subsections (9) and (10), calculate the amount of support obligation apportioned to each parent without including day care and health insurance costs in the calculation and multiply the amount by 1.5.
2. Calculate the percentage of overnight stays the child spends with each parent.
3. Multiply each parent’s support obligation as calculated in subparagraph 1. by the percentage of the other parent’s overnight stays with the child as calculated in subparagraph 2.
4. The difference between the amounts calculated in subparagraph 3. shall be the monetary transfer necessary between the parents for the care of the child, subject to an adjustment for day care and health insurance expenses.
5. Pursuant to subsections (7) and (8), calculate the net amounts owed by each parent for the expenses incurred for day care and health insurance coverage for the child.
6. Adjust the support obligation owed by each parent pursuant to subparagraph 4. by crediting or debiting the amount calculated in subparagraph 5. This amount represents the child support which must be exchanged between the parents.
7. The court may deviate from the child support amount calculated pursuant to subparagraph 6. based upon the deviation factors in paragraph (a), as well as the obligee parent’s low income and ability to maintain the basic necessities of the home for the child, the likelihood that either parent will actually exercise the time-sharing schedule set forth in the parenting plan, a court-ordered time-sharing schedule, or a time-sharing arrangement exercised by agreement of the parties, and whether all of the children are exercising the same time-sharing schedule.
8. For purposes of adjusting any award of child support under this paragraph, “substantial amount of time” means that a parent exercises time-sharing at least 20 percent of the overnights of the year.

If your divorce is amicable, try to come to an agreement with your ex-spouse as to the amount of child support you’ll each pay. If that agreement is approved by the court, the deviation to the Guidelines may stand.

Unfortunately, not every couple can work out a child support agreement on their own. If your divorce case is complicated and you need more support than you’re set to receive, working with a child support lawyer who can advocate on your behalf is the best way to increase the support you receive.

There’s also a chance you could receive additional support outside of the standard Guidelines. Here are two such situations and what to do if you find yourself in either one of them. 

Retroactive Support 

You may be entitled to retroactive child support if you and your ex-spouse have not cohabitated within the past 24 months – the maximum retroactive period for child support in Florida. It may be a tall order for the court to go back through 24 months-worth of financial history to determine if any additional support is owed, but your child support lawyer can petition for that support to be granted, 

Additional Children

Child support can become further complicated when other children not shared by the divorcing couple come into play. If you’re providing support to your ex-spouse children as well as to other children you had outside of that marriage, support for those additional children may be considered by the court as a ‘reasonable and necessary expense.’ If so, the court may allow for an adjustment to the Guidelines. This is a scenario that requires the consultation of an experienced Florida child support lawyer.

Requesting a Child Support Modification 

The court will allow either parent to modify the agreed-upon child support order whenever there’s been a significant change in circumstances. This could include a job change with either an increase or decrease in income, a change to the number of nights a child spends at either parent’s residence or any other number of changes. Keep in mind, however, that the judge won’t grant any modifications to cases that preceded the existing order.

Like all aspects of child support, modifications involve a lot of moving pieces and can quickly become complicated. We highly recommend you consult an experienced child support lawyer before requesting a modification to your child support arrangement.

Related Reading: Modifications to Child Support in Florida

What Should You Do if Your Ex-Spouse is Not Paying Child Support?

Child support is court-ordered and must be paid under Florida state law. And yet, there are many times when a parent will attempt to slow payments or stop payments altogether

Here’s what to do If you find yourself in one of these scenarios.

If Your Ex-Spouse is Withholding Payment

If your ex-spouse is not paying child support, the are many routes you can take with court support to retrieve the funds owed to you. Start by consulting with your child support lawyer who will file the proper paperwork with the court to get you’re the support you’re owed.

The court can garnish your ex-spouse’s wages and have the funds deducted from their paycheck automatically. They may decide to withhold tax return payments or revoke their dependent tax exemption. A revoked driver’s license or other professional licenses can also be used as a penalty.

If Your Ex-Spouse is Hiding Income for Child Support

If you believe your ex-spouse is misreporting his or her income in order to reduce the amount of child support they have to pay, the court can impute their income to determine if what they’re contributing is appropriate based on income level.

The court can impute income by law as long as the parent is unemployed or underemployed by choice or they’re believed to be hiding income. However, the state of Florida typically focuses less on whether leaving an employer was voluntary and more on how much effort the parent has put towards finding new employment. And, whether a new salary is reflective of the income level that parents should expect to make in their profession.

If the court determines that the parent is hiding or otherwise misrepresenting their income level to reduce the amount of child support they pay, that parent’s child support amount will be calculated based upon their imputed salary.

If Your Ex-Spouse Isn’t Paying You and Lives in a Different State

Every state has its own jurisdiction as it relates to child support. This can make it difficult to enforce support across state lines. If you and your spouse live in different states and you need to enforce your child support order, the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act is in place to ensure child support orders are followed.

The Florida Department of Revenue can help you obtain the child support you’re entitled to in these cases – including withholding federal income tax refunds, among other penalties and suspensions.

If you take these routes and your ex-spouse still fails to pay child support, the court can find them in contempt. When this occurs, they’ll either be found in civil contempt or criminal contempt.

Civil contempt is more common and easier to achieve than criminal contempt. An individual is in civil contempt if they do not pay child support in full in a timely manner. Defenses to civil contempt are also easier to achieve. If the parent in contempt can prove there was some reason they couldn’t pay and that the missed payment was unintentional, they may be able to avoid contempt.

For More Information About Child Support in Florida, Review this list of Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How do I begin the child support process?

A. A petition to establish child support can be filed in court. A child support lawyer in Florida can help you file a petition.

Q. What are Florida’s child support guidelines?

A. See Florida’s Child Support Guidelines.

Q. What if the other parent stops paying child support?

A. If the other parent stops paying child support without the court’s approval to do so, you likely have grounds to file a motion of contempt. In these cases, if granted, the parent will be required to pay the support they owe. They can also face penalties and be required to pay fines as a result. See section above on failure to pay child support.

Q. How can I get custody rights if I pay child support?

A. Child support is determined upon more than custody rights. If your ex-spouse is withholding custody, you can file a petition to establish a parenting plan. The court will then review your case and make a custody determination based on whatever is in the best interest of the child.

Q. At what point are child support payments no longer required?

A. In most cases payments stop once the child turns 18 years, though this can extend to the date when the child graduates from high school if over 18 years old.

Q. How do I increase the amount of child support I receive?

A. If your ex-spouse’s income increases, you can file a petition to increase the amount of support. If you end up spending more time with your child than planned since the most recent support case, you may also petition to increase the support you receive to reflect the increased time.

Q. Is a parent required to pay child support if they’re unemployed?

A. Possibly. The court can impute income if the parent is unemployed or underemployed which may require them to pay support. There are many considerations in imputation cases, including income levels, work history, whether the parent had made an effort to find employment, and more.

Q. Can a parent avoid paying child support?

A. No. Under Florida law, a parent is legally and morally responsible for taking care of their child after divorce in the form of child support.

Q. Is a divorce lawyer required to enforce a court order in a divorce case?

A. A divorce lawyer is not required in Florida. It is, however, highly recommended for multiple reasons. If you hire a divorce lawyer to enforce a court order, it’s possible a judge could require your ex-spouse to pay your legal fees due to their failure to comply.

Contact us today for a free family law case evaluation. We’ll listen to your case and explain your rights. When you’re ready to work with an experienced Florida family law attorney to help you with your child support matter, or to file for divorce, please fill out the form on our Contact Us page or give us a call at (954) 880-1302.