If you are a parent going through a divorce, or if you have never been married to your child’s other parent and are ending the relationship, you may need information about child support. In Florida, both parents, whether married or not, are obligated to support their children. Florida follows the “Income Shares Model” which means that courts will estimate the amount parents would spend on children if the family were intact and living in one household, and then divide this amount between the parents based on their incomes.
Judges in Florida refer to the current version of the Florida Child Support Guidelines to calculate child support payments. When child support is an issue in a court case, parents are required to file and exchange financial affidavits verifying individual income and expenses, and then complete a Child Support Guidelines Worksheet (Form 12.902(e)). The appropriate affidavit will depend on the parent’s income. A parent with an annual gross income of less than $50,000 per year should complete Form 902(b), and a parent with an annual gross income of $50,000 or more should complete Form 902(c). The basic child support obligation is based on the number of children and the parents’ combined net incomes—gross income minus allowable deductions.
Gross income includes most types of earned or unearned income. Common examples are wages, commissions, self-employment income, bonuses, alimony, dividend or interest income, rent, worker’s compensation or unemployment insurance benefits, and pension or retirement benefits. Allowable deductions include such things as income tax payments, certain health insurance premiums, mandatory union dues, mandatory retirement payments, social security and medicare payments, alimony payments, and court-ordered child support payments for children from other relationships.
Forms 902(b) and (c) specify exactly what items you must include in gross income and exactly what items you are allowed to deduct to arrive at your individual net income.
The Child Support Guidelines Worksheet contains a chart of basic child support amounts. These charts are modified fairly frequently, so be sure that you have the current chart before relying on the specified amount. After completing the appropriate affidavits to determine individual net income, parents can consult the chart to find the basic support amount that corresponds to their combined net income and number of children. The basic support amount is then shared between the parents in proportion to each parent’s income. For example, if the parents’ total net monthly income is $5,000, the basic child support amount for one child would be $1,000 according to the chart. To find each parent’s percentage share of the support amount ($1,000) you’ll divide each parent’s income by the total combined income. If the noncustodial parent earns $3,000 a week, and the custodial parent earns $2,000 a week, the noncustodial parent would be responsible for 60% of the $1,000 support amount (3,000 divided by 5,000) and the custodial parent for 40% of the $1,000 support amount (2,000 divided by 5,000).
If either you or your child’s other parent has primary physical custody (is the “custodial parent”) and the other parent has visitation consisting of less than 20 percent of overnights (less than 73 overnights per year), the basic calculation will give you a support amount that the noncustodial parent will pay the custodial parent. (Courts presume that the custodial parent's share is already going toward the direct costs of raising children.) In the example above, the noncustodial parent will be obligated to pay the custodial parent a basic monthly child support amount of $600 (60% of 1000).
If your parenting plan includes substantial time-sharing where each parent has the children for at least 20 percent of overnights per year, you will have to make additional calculations. Because total costs of raising children are higher when both parents maintain separate households for children, the guidelines follow a “gross up” method in these situations. You will first have to multiply the basic child support obligation by 150%. The amount each parent is responsible for is then allocated not only according to income but also based on the percentage of overnights per year the child spends with each parent. Adjusting calculations for parenting time can get complicated, and you may need to contact an attorney for help.
You should add the monthly cost of health care for the children, including health insurance premiums and non-covered medical, dental and prescription medication costs, as well as the cost of monthly child care either parent requires to be able to work, to the basic support obligation. Responsibility for these items is divided between the parents based on their respective incomes without adjustment for parenting time, regardless of whether you are using the basic method or the gross up method.
In some cases one parent may have a reason for requesting a support amount that differs from the guideline amount (called a “deviation”). Florida courts require a parent requesting a deviation to file an additional form called a Motion to Deviate from Child Support Guidelines. A court might find that a deviation is fair if, for example, the child has extraordinary expenses related to education, special needs, or medical needs, or if one of the parents has extraordinary visitation expenses or unreimbursed medical, disability, or employment-related expenses. Courts will also consider whether or not a child has an independent source of income (not including supplemental security income) or whether either parent has significant assets available (not included in income) which could be used to pay support. The guidelines contain a detailed list of factors that a court may consider, but these factors are not exclusive; a court may consider making any adjustment necessary to achieve a fair result.
Sadly, some parents try to avoid their child support obligation by quitting a job or failing to conduct an adequate job search. For example, one parent might quit a good paying, highly-skilled job to take a lower paying position under the mistaken belief that this will relieve them of their child support obligation. Florida courts have taken a very strong position against this kind of behavior. If a court finds that either parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, it may impute income to that parent based on the parent’s employment potential in light of recent work history, occupational qualifications, and prevailing earnings levels in the community.
If a parent refuses to participate in a child support hearing or doesn’t produce adequate information regarding income and finances at the hearing, the court will automatically impute income to the parent, unless it finds that the parent needs to stay home with the child (because the child is a young infant or is disabled, for example). If there is no proof of the actual income the parent would be able to earn, the court will apply a rebuttable presumption that the income would be equivalent to the median income of a year-round full-time worker according to reports of the United States Census Bureau.
Once a court has made an initial child support order, a parent who wants to modify (change) the order must show a substantial and ongoing change in circumstances. Some examples of changes that might justify modification would be one parent’s getting a much higher paying job or the parents making a permanent change in the number of days per week that each of them spends with a child. Generally, Florida courts won’t consider a modification unless the difference between an existing award and the amount determined by a new analysis and application of the current guidelines would be at least 15%, or at least $50, whichever amount is greater; however, even this amount of variation won’t justify a change in the support order in every situation.
In Florida the support obligation normally continues until a child who has finished high school turns 18, or until a full-time high school student turns 19.
If you know each parent’s net monthly income and the cost of any health care or child care expenses either parent is paying, you can use this quick calculator to estimate your child support payment. This calculation won’t take into account any potential adjustments for shared parenting time or any possible deviations.
The Child Support Enforcement Program of the Florida Department of Revenue is responsible for helping parents obtain and enforce child support orders, including locating absent parents and establishing paternity, if necessary. More information about these services is available on the Department’s website.