Before a trial court can award child support, it must first consider the overall financial circumstances of both parents. Martland v. Arabia, 987 So. 2d 118 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008). By that, the court does not automatically apply the child support guidelines set forth in Fla. Stat. § 61.30. Instead, the court must consider the needs of the child and the parents’ ability to pay support. See Edwards v. Edwards, 615 So. 2d 178 (Fla. 3d DCA 1993)(holding that trial court should not have increased the father’s child support obligation without evidence that father had the ability to pay the increased amount); see also, Shaw v. Nelson, 4 So. 3d 740, 743 (Fla. 1st DCA 2009)(holding that “[i]n calculating child support, a trial court must determine each parent’s income.”)
In determining the needs of a child, section 61.30(11)(a) allows Florida courts to adjust a child support award based on “deviation factors” such as extraordinary medical or educational expenses or the special needs of a child. In Thyre v. Thyre, 963 So. 2d 859, 863 (Fla. 2d DCA 2007), the appellate court reversed the trial court’s award of child support as the trial court did not consider whether a trust fund set up for a child with autism met all of the child’s needs. The court in Thyre reversed “[b]ecause it is clear that the child has greater needs based on his age and his autism and because there was no evidence that the child’s trust fund meets all of his needs …” Id.; see also, Swanston v. Swanston, 746 So. 2d 566, 568 (Fla. 1st DCA 1999)(reversing a final judgment regarding child support “because it does not state the minimum child support need calculated under 61.30, nor does it give any relevant details regarding the calculation …”)
When considering a parent’s ability to pay, child support awards should be calculated based on the parent’s net income instead of gross income. Henry v. Henry, 921 So. 2d 880 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006). It is reversible error for a court to base a child support award on a parent’s gross income. Melo v. Melo, 864 So. 2d 1268, 1269 (Fla. 3d DCA 2004), citing Thilem v. Thilem, 662 So. 2d 1314, 1316 (Fla. 3d DCA 1995)(holding that “the trial court erred in failing to distinguish gross from net income, which is crucial to properly applying the [child support] guidelines.”); see also, Weiser v. Weiser, 782 So. 2d 986, 987 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001)(holding that child support must be recalculated based on each parent’s net income.)
Section 61.30 provides parents with allowable deductions which they can subtract from their gross income to establish net income. George v. George, 93 So. 3d 464 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012). A court determines a party’s net income by subtracting statutorily required deductions, such as federal tax deductions, from the party’s monthly income. Id. at 469, citing Chaney v. Fife, 18 So. 3d 44, 45 (Fla.. 1st DCA 2009). Under section 61.30, allowable deductions include such items as mandatory retirement payments, health insurance payments and support payments for another child. Fla. Stat. § 61.30(3). When calculating a child support award, trial courts should explain how it determined the amount of the deductions applied. George, 93 so. 3d at 469. Further, the trial court must consider the paying spouse’s own reasonable and necessary living expenses. Id.
If a parent’s expenses exceed his or her income, this by itself is not a basis for a court to waive a parent’s child support obligation. Bloemendal v. Hodge, 754 So. 2d 845 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008). However, in Wood v. Wood, the First District found the trial court committed error when it ordered a father to pay a monthly child support amount that exceeded his net income by approximately $180. Wood v. Wood, 632 So. 2d 720 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994)(finding that the trial court never determined whether the husband had the ability to pay child support award or make findings required under section 61.30 for deviating from child support guidelines.)