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On the Move

According to the Census Bureau, most people change residences about twelve times in their lifetimes. Many of these relocations are for either commercial reasons; for example, to be closer to a new job or to accept a promotion. Other relocations are for circumstantial reasons, such as the purchase or sale of a home or to be closer (or further away) from relatives.

Since many of these relocations occur during the summer, September is often the time when the move’s effects on child support and child custody arrangements come into sharper focus. What options do families have in these situations?

Child Support Modification

The law states that child support obligations may be modified either up or down based on a substantial change in circumstances. In this realm, such a change in circumstances often involves a change in income. The Legislature defines this term as either a 15% or $50 difference between the guideline support amount and the parent’s net income.

This part of the standard is objective because the numbers either support a modification or they do not. There are a few exceptions to this rule but not very many; for example, if the obligee accepts any social welfare assistance, the cutoffs are 10% or $25. Net income is also objective where child support is concerned because the law is very clear as to what income is included and what is excluded.

A petition for increase, or decrease, in child support payments can also be based on changed expenses. Some examples include:

  • Day Care: A child may be old enough to start public school or a parent’s work schedule may change, so these substantial expenses can either end or begin.
  • Alimony: When temporary alimony payments cease, the freed-up income can be considered an increase that justifies a 15/50 modification.
  • Taxes: A residence change to a state outside Florida that has a state income tax often drastically affects monthly income.
  • Health Insurance: Most court orders require obligor parents to pay health insurance premiums, so a premium increase (or decrease) can also arguably trigger a modification.

An expense-based modification is slightly less objective; for example, if an obligor parent asks for a child-support decrease because there is a less expensive health insurance plan available, the obligee parent is free to argue that the coverage is not as good.

The third modification basis – changed parenting time – is almost completely subjective. Most parenting plans assume that the children are with their custodial parents 265 nights per year and their noncustodial parents 100 nights a year. But in many cases, the split is more like 300 nights and 165 nights. This inquiry is even more complicated if one or both parents lives with relatives for at least part of the year, if the children are away at a boarding school, or if other special circumstances apply.

If the judge finds that the actual parenting split is substantially different from the presumed division, the child support amount can be adjusted accordingly.

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