A photo of a Florida child support agreement

Child support is a court-ordered obligation of the financial support for the care, maintenance, training, and education of a child. See Florida child support law 39.01.  Child support is the responsibility of every parent, regardless of whether the two parents are married, divorced, or single. Under Florida child support law, parents are not able to waive child support obligations. See Finn v. Finn. Parents of a minor child have a legal and moral duty to support and maintain their child.

The amount of child support will be based on Florida’s Child Support Guidelines. The Guidelines outline the amount of support to be paid for each specific case. The amount of support is based primarily on the parents’ income, custody rights, and the number of children involved. In most instances, the court will strictly enforce the Florida Child Support Guidelines. However, in some circumstances, the judge can deviate from the Guidelines. A family law attorney in Tampa can help provide examples of when a judge may alter from the Guidelines.

What Does Child Support Cover?

Child support intends to ensure the child continues to be provided with an acceptable standard of living. All child support payments are meant for the benefit of the child. However, some benefits may incidentally accrue to the non-paying parent. For instance, child support payments may include the following items.

  • Food and Clothing.  In addition to weekly groceries, account for eating out and school meals and; regularly shopping for clothes.
  • Educational Expenses. – Tuition, uniforms, books, supplies, and activities (after-school sports, music lessons, etc.) may be covered.
  • Medical Costs. Out-of-pocket medical expenses (deductibles, uncovered services, etc.) required to maintain a child in good health may be included
  • Hobbies, Activities, and Entertainment. There is more to life than good food, education, and health. Remember to include expenses for summer camps, swimming lessons, and movies.

How To Determine The Amount Of Child Support In Florida

The amount of child support will be based on the Florida Child Support Guidelines. The Guidelines outline how much child support is required based on the parents’ net income and the number of children involved. The amount and duration of the child support payments will vary based on the individual circumstances of each case. For information about your specific case, seek the advice of a child custody lawyer in Tampa.

The main factors determining the amount of support to be paid are the combined monthly incomes of both parents and the number of children they share. The number of overnight stays each parent has with the children will also impact the amount of child support required. Additional factors such as the medical, dental, psychological, and educational needs of the child will also be considered.

Child support will likely be paid even if the children spend equal time with each parent. It is a rare case when neither parent pays child support. For instance, if there is equal timesharing, but the mother earns more money, she may be required to pay child support. Generally, there will be support unless both parents earn the same income and have equal custody.

Child Support With Shared Custody

In cases involving joint custody, the court will typically apply a four-step analysis to determine the amount of child support. The first step is to calculate the total amount of child support required by reviewing the Guidelines. Next, the court will determine each parent’s share under the Guidelines. Each parent’s share is determined by dividing their monthly income with the combined monthly of both parents. Next, the court will determine the amount of time each parent has custody of the child as a percentage. For instance, if the parents have 50/50 custody, their responsibility will be 50%.

The fourth step is to review the Child Support Guidelines to determine each parent’s share of the support. The court will proportion the total child support on the percentage of time each parent has custody of the child. See Jaworski v. Jaworski. If the combined monthly net income exceeds the $10,000 listed in the Guidelines, additional calculations will be needed. The amount over $10,000 will be based on the number of children and income more than $10,000. See Florida child support law 61.30.

How To Deviate from The Florida Child Support Guidelines

Most often, the judge will follow the Florida Child Support Guidelines when deciding the amount of support. However, the court does have the discretion to deviate from the Guidelines, if the facts warrant it. Regardless, child support must be reasonable and not require a parent to pay more than they can afford. See Marsh v. Marsh. When deciding whether to deviate from the Guidelines, the court will consider all relevant factors. These factors include but are not limited to: the needs of the child, standard of living, each parent’s age, and the financial status of each parent. See Finley v. Scott. If the Court deviates from the Child Support Guidelines by more than 5%, a written explanation will be required.

Under Florida child support law, parents are not able to waive child support obligations. Parents of a minor child have a legal and moral duty to support and maintain their child. See Martland v. Arabia. Parents are allowed to stipulate and agree to the amount of child support. However, the amount of support must be in the best interests of the child.  Agreements on child support are subject to approval by a Florida family law court. The agreements will only be approved if the agreement provides for the proper care and maintenance of the child. See Wendel v. Wendel.

Back Owed Child Support In Florida

Under Florida child support law, a parent has the right to seek retroactively (back owed) child support. Generally, retroactive child support will date back to when the parents stopped residing together in the same home. Regardless, the period for retroactive child support in Florida cannot exceed 24 months.

Before the enactment of the retroactive child support law, back-owed child support for paternity cases was not limited to 24 months and could go as far back as to the birth of the child. The statute on retroactive child support in Florida was enacted in 1998. Therefore, if a child was born before 1998, the amount of back owed child support will not be limited to just 24 months. In these cases, the mother may seek child support dating back to the date the child was born. Additionally, a parent may be able to sue for retroactive child support even after the child turns 18. See Campagna v. Cope.

The Amount Of Retroactive Child Support

The amount of child support will be paid based primarily on the Florida Child Support Guidelines. In retroactive child support cases, this can be very difficult because the parent’s income may have fluctuated during the period child support should have been paid. For instance, if the parent’s income varied weekly, the court may have to make individual determinations for each week during the 24 months.

All payments made by the father for the benefit of the child throughout the retroactive period can be considered. Additionally, the court must consider allowing a payment plan for the amount of retroactive child support. Usually, retroactive support will be added to the monthly payment of future child support.

Later Born Children

If a parent is ordered to pay child support, it can affect the amount of support that will be required for subsequent children. The amount paid can be deducted from the parent’s gross income used for Florida child support calculations. See Child Support Law 61.30(3)(f).  Keep in mind; this only applies to a child support order. Thus, if a parent is voluntarily providing support without a court order, the deduction will not apply under this statute.

Under Florida child support law, adjustments to the Guidelines may be premised on a parent’s reasonable and necessary expenses. Providing support for other children can potentially be classified as a reasonable and necessary expense under the law. See Flanagan v. Flanagan. These types of cases can be complicated and require a thorough understanding of Florida child support law. Therefore, if you need help, contact a Tampa child custody attorney.

Child Support When Parents Live In Different States

When parents live in different states, it can create jurisdictional issues with the court. If the case is not filed correctly, the court may not have jurisdiction (authority) to enforce the support. Therefore, it is important to reference the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) for cases such as these. Under federal law, each state is required to have the UIFSA in effect to enforce child support orders. The UIFSA provides uniformity amongst the states for child support procedures. Additionally, it provides for enforcement of child support orders from foreign states. Thus, under the UIFSA, a Tampa child support  attorney can take legal action to enforce a child support order on a resident of another state.

The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act

The UIFSA can also be utilized in Florida to establish child support when parents live in different states. See Florida Child Support Law 88.4011. Thus, a Florida court can establish child support, regardless of the parent seeking payments resides outside of Florida. Conversely, Florida can also assist with enforcing a support order from another state.

Under the UIFSA, all states are required to recognize and enforce child and spousal support obligations from other states. Therefore, a Florida attorney can help with child support when parents live in different states. For instance, if a Florida family law court issues a child support order, and the father subsequently moves to Georgia, the UIFSA will assist in enforcing the order in Georgia. Without the UIFSA, Florida may not have jurisdiction to enforce child support when parents live in different states.

The Florida Department of Revenue can also assist in the collection of child support. The Florida Department of Revenue can garnish wages, suspend a driver’s license,  and withhold federal income tax refunds. If the party obligated to pay is not a Florida resident, the Department can also assist in working with states that have jurisdiction. Additionally, the enforcement action will not be barred simply because the child is over the age of 18. See Florida v. Vorac. The Florida Department of Revenue can be a great resource, but they are no substitute for a child custody attorney. If you need legal advice, consider also contacting a child custody law firm in your area.

Hiding Income For Child Support

Unfortunately, many individuals will underreport their income to avoid or lower child support. In cases such as these, the imputation of income may be a useful tool. If a parent is hiding income, the court can impute a salary on that parent. The court can also impute income if a parent is unemployed or underemployed. If proven, the parent will be obligated to pay support based on the imputed salary,

Under Florida law, when a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court shall impute income. The income should be based on the employment potential and probable earning capacity of the parent. See Florida child support case Guard v. Guard. In imputation cases, the court will consider the parent’s work history, qualifications, and prevailing income level in the community.

The family law judge must make specific factual findings based on evidence relating to the current job market, the parent’s employment history, and the prevailing salary in the local community to impute income. If there is sufficient evidence to support the court’s imputation of income it will not be reversed on appeal without a finding that the court abused its discretion. See Rojas v. Rojas.

How To Impute Income

The court will usually apply a two-part test for cases with alleged imputation of income. First, there must be a determination that the lack of employment or reduction in income was voluntary. Second, the court must determine if the loss of income resulting from the parent’s pursuit of his or her own interest or is due to a less than diligent and bona fide effort to obtain employment, at an income level equal to what the parent could earn. See Schram v. Schram.

Typically, Florida courts won’t focus on if the parent left their previous employment voluntarily or involuntarily. Instead, the focus is on what the parent has done since the prior employment. For instance, has the parent remained unemployed voluntarily or made a bona fide good faith effort to find employment. The child support lawyer seeking to impute income will have the burden of proof. The lawyer must show income should be imputed to the other parent based on the two-part test above.

Modifying Child Support In Florida

If there has been a substantial change in circumstances, child support may be modified. The judge will only be concerned with changes that occurred after the prior case. Issues that arose prior to the initial case will usually not be considered for modifications.  This is true even if there are facts that were not discussed in the prior case. Typically, judges will only be interested in changes since the last order was issued.

For instance, if a parent has encountered an increase or decrease in income, support may be modified. Generally, there will need to be at least a 10% change in income to qualify as a substantial change. Keep in mind, even if you had a decrease in income that does not automatically mean support payments will decrease. For instance, the opposing party may have also had a reduction in income, and that decrease may be more significant. Thus, it is recommended to discuss all the facts of the case with an attorney before filing for a modification. A thorough review will likely be necessary to develop a successful plan to lower child support.

If the timesharing arrangement has changed, child support may need to be modified as well. See Bloom v. Panchysyn. Generally, the more time a parent spends with the child, the lower their child support payments will be. Therefore, if the amount of overnight stays with the children is modified, support may need to be adjusted accordingly.

Enforcement Of Child Support

Florida has very strict child support laws to ensure that a parent is paying their required amount of support. A parent may be able to seek assistance from Florida’s Department of Revenue or a private child support law firm. A parent also has many different types of sanctions they can use when enforcing child support.

Under Florida child support law, a court is authorized to garnish wages as a method of enforcement of child support. A wage garnishment automatically deducts the funds from the payor’s paycheck. The garnishment can occur periodically and continue for as long as the court deems necessary. Further, orders for child support are not susceptible to the head of household defense to garnishments. See Waddell v. Schwarz.

Tax refunds may be garnished as well to satisfy child support. Further, the court can order the exemption to be allocated to the payee either on a permanent or rotating basis. The dependent tax exemption can be a substantial amount of money. Therefore, in some cases, this can be a significant penalty for failure to comply with a child support order.

Additionally, failure to pay support can result in a driver’s license suspension. See Florida family law 61.13016. Further, under Florida Statute 61.13015, the payor’s professional license can be suspended as well. However, the suspension can be stopped if it would result in irreparable harm to the payor and not help accomplish the objective of collecting payment. Additionally, the court may refuse to suspend a license if there is a good faith effort to make payments.

Contempt For Failure To Pay Child Support

Either civil or criminal contempt can enforce failure to comply with a court order of support. However, civil contempt is used much more frequently than criminal contempt. To convict a person of criminal contempt, the evidence must prove the defendant can pay, and the failure to pay is willful and intentional. See Bowen v. Bowen. Further, since it is a criminal action, the prosecution must comply with Rule 3.840 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure.

If convicted of criminal contempt for failure to pay, the incarceration must not exceed 180 days. The incarceration is designed to encourage payment of the funds that are due, rather than as punishment. Therefore, often a court will purge the contempt if the defendant pays a specified amount.

On the other hand, the burden for civil contempt is much easier to satisfy. Civil contempt only requires there be an existing order of support that has not been paid timely. Even though the burden is lower, there may still be defenses to contempt. For instance, showing that due to circumstances beyond their control, they no longer have the ability to tender the payments may avoid contempt. For this defense to apply, the defendant must prove the failure to pay is unintentional. Further, the payor must also prove the inability to pay is due to an intervening circumstance not contemplated at the time of the original order.

Consult a 5-Star Family Law Firm in Tampa

The attorneys at Florida Law Advisers, P.A. have years of experience in both advocating for and against child support.  We understand how important these matters are and fight hard for our clients. If you need help with a child support case, call us 800 990 7763. Our initial consultation is free and can be done over the phone for your convenience.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I start child support?
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What Are Florida’s Child Support Guidelines?
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Can a parent waive child support?
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How to get child support when a parent is unemployed
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