When dealing with a divorce in Florida, perhaps the most important settlement to be made between couples is sharing the raising of the children; the most common question with that issue is: Will someone have to pay child support? And if so, why and how much?
Child support laws will vary by state, so it is especially important that residents of Florida gain an understanding of the laws concerning child support as it applies to their state.
Child Support Explained: A Brief Summary
In its simplest form, child support occurs when one parent pays the other parent money for the financial support of the child or children. Child support will likely apply even when the children spend equal time living with each parent and there is joint custody (common in Florida). It is a rare case when neither parent pays child support.
Unfortunately, child support rarely functions in its simplest form. Since each state has their own laws concerning divorce and child support, when parents live in different states, child support can become more complex. In such a situation, working with a local family law attorney is essential, as these professionals have the experience and knowledge concerning interstate child support and how best to enforce the terms.
Child support laws also apply to parents who never married but are ending their relationship.
What Child Support Covers
The intention of child support is to ensure the child continues to be provided with an acceptable standard of living covering basic needs. All child support payments are meant for the benefit of the child, but as this includes shelter, some minor benefits may accrue to the non-paying spouse. Other needs that child support should cover include:
- Food and Clothing – in addition to weekly groceries, account for eating out and school meals; regularly shopping for clothes is a must for growing kids
- Educational Expenses – in addition to tuition (for charter or private schools), uniforms, books, supplies, and activities (after-school sports, music lessons, etc.) should be covered
- Medical Costs – out-of-pocket medical expenses (deductibles, uncovered services, etc.) required to maintain a child in good health should be included
- Hobbies, Activities, and Entertainment – there is more to life than good food, education, and health, so factoring in expenses for summer camps, swimming lessons, and movies can be considered basic needs as well
One should also note that child support payments are not set in stone. A parent finding child support payments either insufficient or becoming more difficult to pay due to changed circumstances may file a request for child support modification. Reasons for a modification request can include:
- Medical Expenses – if a child develops a medical condition which increases costs of care, child support payments can increase
- Changed Child Care Costs – as children grow, so do their needs and interests, especially in their teens when they want cars more than toys
- Unemployment – an extended period of unemployment with minimal future prospects can affect either parent, the payer or recipient; a change of payments may be in order
- Changes in Income – if either parent receives a significant increase in salary or gets a new job with higher pay, a review and possible modification of payments could apply
Awarding Child Support
There is a high likelihood in Florida that one parent will end up paying child support to the other parent. From a legal viewpoint, both parents, regardless of marital status, have a legal obligation to support their children.
The majority of states use the Income Shares Model which uses the following formula in determining appropriate child support awards:
- Net income of both parents is determined and are added together (and each parent’s share of combined net income is calculated as a percentage),
- The state provides a table (in your case, found in the Florida Child Support Guidelines) listing minimum child support amounts (based upon combined income and number of children),
- Additional expenses beyond basic needs (i.e., childcare and special medical needs) are identified and added to the minimum child support; this is known as the presumptive child support amount.
- The presumptive child support amount is then split between the parents according to their percentage of combined net income, with each parent contributing their proportion of costs.
Calculating Child Support Payments in Florida
The process of calculating child support payments in Florida is thorough but straightforward. Parents are given a Florida Child Support Worksheet that must be completed and filed with the courts. This worksheet declares the net income earned by each parent, along with listing specific expenses related to the children involved.
In addition to the worksheet, each parent must complete an income affidavit declaring annual gross income. Individuals grossing less than $50,000 per year file Form 902b while those earning in excess of $50,000 per year will file Form 902c.
The following is an example of one hypothetical Florida family who needs to calculate child support payments. The parents have joint custody of one child. The father’s net income is $3,000 and the mother’s net income is $2,000, making the father 60% responsible ($3,000 / $5,000 = 60%) for child support payments and the mother 40% responsible.
According to the Florida Child Support Guidelines, the minimum child support for 1 child living in a home with a $5,000 net income is $1,000.
Additionally, $150 per month is spent in childcare, $100 per month for health insurance, and $250 per month for additional medical care not covered by insurance is required. This makes a total of $500 extra; added to the minimum child support of $1,000 brings the total to $1,500 the parents must pay to support the child.
Under this scenario, the father is responsible for $900 of the child support (the $1,500 total child expenses multiplied by 60%).
You have been shown a very simplified example of an equally simplified child support calculation. Most elements when determining child care payments require a lot more detailed information and calculations.
For instance, when determining net income for each parents, all income must be declared, including:
- Self-Employment Income
- Retirement Income
- Investment Income
- Worker’s Compensation/Unemployment Benefits
Likewise, the list of deductions subtracted from the above income sources to obtain net income is equally expansive, allowing expenses such as:
- Income Tax Deductions (Federal, State, and Local)
- Union Dues
- Alimony Payments
- Mandatory Retirement Benefits
- Select Health Insurance Premiums
- Other Child Support Payments
When dealing with a matter as important as determining the appropriate and proper amount to support one’s children, it is equally important to partner with a seasoned, professional, and caring family law attorney.
At Florida Law Advisors, we specialize in all forms of family law, including advocating for fair child support payments for our clients and their children. Contact us today to learn how we can help you in your personal situation.