In Florida, each parent has a fundamental obligation to support his or her minor or legally dependent child.
What is Child Support?
Child support is a right that belongs to the child and may not be contracted away by the parents. It is a dual obligation imposed on the parents by the State of Florida.
How is Child Support Calculated?
Child support is calculated using the child support guidelines as set forth in Florida Statute §61.30.
Several factors go into the child support calculations. The Court considers, in part, the income of the parents, medical and dental insurance for the child, non-covered expenses for medical and dental expenses, amount paid for daycare.
The Court may order a child support amount that varies by plus or minus five percent of the child support guidelines amount. However, the Court may order an amount outside the five percent limitation if the guideline amount would be unjust or inappropriate. See Florida Statute § 61.30(1)(a). In such a case, the Court is required to make a written and specific finding on the record that explains why ordering the guideline amount would be unjust or inappropriate.
The Court may, at any time, order either or both parents who owe a duty of support to a child to pay support to the other parent or, in the case of both parents, to a third party who has custody in accordance with the child support guidelines schedule. See Florida Statute §61.13(1)(a).
Factors to Consider when Awarding Support:
The Court must consider the overall financial circumstances of both parents before awarding child support. See Florida Statute §61.30; see also, Martland v. Arabia, 987 So. 2d 118 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008).
Child support determination lies within the Court’s discretion subject to the statutory guidelines and the reasonableness test. See Whight v. Whight, 635 So. 2d 135 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994).
Child support must be based on the legal earning capacity of the parent and not on the amount the parent earns through illegal activities. See Crossin v. Crossin, 979 So. 2d 298 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008).
What if my child is 18 but still dependent?
A court may require parents to support their dependent child beyond the age of 18 years when such dependency is because of a mental or physical incapacity that began prior to the child reaching majority or if the child is between the ages of 18 and 19 and is still in high school, performing in good faith with a reasonable expectation of graduation before the age of 19. See Florida Statute §743.07(2).
Can Child Support be Modified?
Yes. Child support may be modified:
- if the modification is found by the Court to be in the best interests of the child;
- when the child reaches majority;
- if there is a substantial change in the circumstances of the parties; or
- when a child is emancipated, marries, joins the armed services, or dies.
To qualify as a substantial change in circumstances, a change must be material, involuntary, and permanent. See Van Looven v. Van Looven, 100 So. 3d 148 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012).
What if the other parent is purposely making less to lower child support payments?
When a party is willfully earning less than the person has the ability to earn through his or her best efforts, the Court can impute* income if: (1) the termination of income was voluntary; and (2) any subsequent underemployment resulted from the party’s pursuit of his/her own interests or through less than diligent and bona fide efforts to find employment paying income at a level equal to or better than that formerly received. Guard v. Guard, 993 So. 2d 1086 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008).
*Imputing income is a process used to determine what a party’s income should be considering said party’s skills, circumstances, ability to work, or refusal to work.
Agreements Concerning Child Support:
Contracts regarding the support of minor children are subject to the plenary power of the State to control and regulate, and subject to Court’s discretion to enforce. The mere existence of an agreement addressing support for a minor child does not permit the Court to disregard the Statute’s explicit limitations on modifying support, imputing income, or awarding retroactive support. See Burkley v. Burkley, 911 So. 2d 262 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005).
Contract law rather than statutory law governs promises exceeding the scope of the Florida Statutes that govern child support. These include agreements providing support beyond the age of majority or providing more child support than required by statute. See Burkley v. Burkley, 911 So. 2d 262 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005).
A parent cannot waive all arrears when the Department of Revenue is a party and public assistance monies have been paid. The Department of Revenue is an essential party to a public assistance case and Department of Revenue must be noticed or a party to any agreement between the mother and father.
If you receive government assistance and have questions regarding enforcing or establishing the amount of child support, visit the Florida Department of Revenue Child Support Program for more information and ways to apply for their service.
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