The Statutory Guidelines
Florida courts determine the amount of child support a parent owes based on mandatory schedules, or “guidelines,” set forth in Florida Statute § 61.30. The guidelines establish the minimum needs of a child in relation to the parents’ level of income. Parties to a divorce proceeding sometimes misconstrue child support as an obligation imposed on one spouse for the benefit of another spouse. Instead, child support in Florida is a dual obligation owed by both parents to their child. The child support obligation begins the moment the child is born and continues until the child reaches adulthood. Child support is based on the idea that each parent is required to contribute to the wellbeing of their child.
Calculating Child Support Based on Net Monthly Income
Florida’s child support guidelines establish the minimum amount of support a parent is required to pay, based on both parents’ combined net income. Courts calculate the amount of support by adding the net monthly income of both parents together and look at the minimum child support need set forth in the guidelines. Next, the court calculates each parent’s individual percentage share of the child support by determining each parent’s separate net monthly income and dividing this amount by the total amount of both parents’ net monthly income. Each parent’s actual dollar share of the child support obligation is then calculated by multiplying the minimum child support need by the parent’s parentage share of child support.
Determining Net Income to Calculate Child Support
The child support guidelines are based on the parents’ combined net income. Under Florida’s child support statute, net income is determined by taking the parents’ combined gross income and subtracting certain allowable deductions. Under § 61.30(2)(a), gross include includes such things as salary, wages, bonuses, commissions, pension and retirement benefits, as well as social security benefits. Once you determine the parents’ combined gross income, you subtract allowable deductions which include items such as federal, state and local taxes; mandatory union dues and retirement benefits; and, health insurance premiums.
Court’s Ability to Deviate from Child Support Guidelines
The amount of child support provided for under § 61.30 is presumed to be correct unless the court decides to deviate from the scheduled amount. A court in a divorce proceeding may increase or decrease the amount of support mandated by the child support guidelines up to five percent (5%) if the court takes into consideration “all relevant factors” including the needs of the child and the age, standard of living and financial status of each parent. If the court wishes to deviate from the amount of support in the guidelines by an amount greater than 5%, the court can do so provided it makes written findings explaining why awarding support in the amount set forth in the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate.
Modifying Existing Child Support Obligations
In order to modify child support, Florida requires a parent show there has been a substantial change in circumstances. When a court enters a child support order, it has continuing jurisdiction to modify the child support amount when doing so is in the child’s bests interests, there has been a substantial change in circumstances or the child is no longer a minor. The party that wishes to modify the child support order carries the burden of convincing the court that modification is necessary and appropriate.
To show a substantial change in circumstances that would warrant modifying a child support award, a parent must show the changed circumstances must be significant, material, involuntary and permanent in nature. For example, it is not appropriate to reduce a parent’s child support obligations where a parent voluntarily chooses to leave a high paying career for an occupation that pays less income. Instead, a court can “impute” income on to a parent where he or she voluntarily decided to become unemployed or underemployed.
Fla. Stat. § 61.30(5 – 6) and (9 – 10); Wilcox v. Munoz, 35 So. 3d 136, 139 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010).
Fla. Stat. § 61.14(1); Overby v. Overby, 698 So. 2d 811, 813 (Fla. 1997).
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