Setting and Modifying Child Support Obligations in Florida
Most states, including Florida, are income share child support jurisdictions. The child support guidelines take a number of factors into account so that, as closely as possible, the children have the same standard of living they would have had if their parents remained married. The guideline amounts are presumptively reasonable, and judges very rarely deviate from these amounts.
Initial determinations are rather objective, but subsequent modifications are both subjective and objective. Before the court will change the amount, a Port St. Lucie divorce attorney must convince the judge that there has been a substantial change in circumstances. If that’s the case, the judge will modify the child support obligation accordingly.
While there are a number of child support factors, the two most important ones are probably the income of both parents and the parenting time division.
Considering both parents incomes makes the process a bit more complex. However, this approach also eliminates absurd results, such as an unemployable obligor paying child support to a wealthy obligee. Significantly, there is usually a difference between net income for income tax purposes and net income for child support purposes. Voluntary deductions, such as over-withholding and 401(k) contributions, may not be allowable for child support purposes.
The guidelines consider total income and the number of children in the family to set an overall child support obligation.
Parenting time is important as well, since it sets the proportionality ratio. The old reliable every-other-weekend/every-other holiday arrangement usually results in about a 70-30 parenting time split. So, the obligor would be responsible for about 30 percent of the child support amount, if all other things are equal. Obviously, that’s not always the case.
The guidelines do not apply to couples who collectively earn more than $10,000 per month ($120,000 per year).
When is a Modification Appropriate?
Incomes and parenting time splits change over time. So, as a rule of thumb, a child support order probably needs legal modification at least once every three years. Since these orders fall under attorney general enforcement jurisdiction, legal modification is important for both increases and decreases. Side agreements between the parties, even if they are in writing, are not enforceable.
Not all income changes qualify as a substantial change in circumstances. Generally, the alteration must be at least 10 percent, up or down. Additionally, the change must be permanent, involuntary, and unanticipated.
A one-time bonus definitely does not qualify as a permanent change, and a business downturn which affects freelance income probably does not qualify as a permanent change either. Additionally, obligors cannot quit high-paying jobs to reduce their child support or alimony obligations. And, obligors cannot request age-related changes (e.g. Janie outgrew daycare so Janie’s mom needs less child support). We all know that children get older.
However, age changes may qualify for a reduction in other situations. When children turn 18 or graduate from high school, they are no longer “children” and thus no longer subject to the divorce order. So, obligors no longer need to pay child support, health insurance reimbursement, or any other expenses related to these children. Generally, Florida family law judges cannot compel parents to contribute to college costs.
Reach Out to an Experienced Lawyer
Child support orders were never meant to be permanent. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.