Florida Statutes § 61.13(1)(a) permits a court to modify child support under several scenarios, one being whether modification is in the best interests of the child. Overby v. Overby, 698 So. 2d 811, 814 (Fla. 1997). In Overby, the Florida Supreme Court interpreted section 61.13(1)(a) to permit a court to modify child support when doing so is in the best interests of the child, or where there is a substantial change in circumstances. Id. at 815. Overby provides an excellent explanation of when modification of child support payments may or may not be in the child’s best interest.
In Overby, the father petitioned the trial court to reduce his child support payments so that he could attend law school. At the time the father was earning $45,000 per year as a police officer and was paying $200 per week in child support. Id. The trial court, at the father’s request, reduced child support payments from $200 per week to $200 per month so that the father could attend law school. According to the trial court, “the minor children will ultimately benefit from the former husband’s actions, even though the older child will reach the age of majority while her father is attending law school.” Id. at 815.
On appeal, the Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court’s finding that the reduction in child support was in the children’s best interest. The Court noted that the youngest child would reach the age of majority only a few years after the father completed his law school education. The Court also recognized that there is “no guarantee that the father will secure employment paying more than $45,000 per year immediately after he finishes school.” Id. Based on these findings, the Court in Overby found that a reduction in child support was not in the children’s best interests. Instead, the Court noted that the children would be subsidizing their father’s law school education through lower child support payments. Id.
Overby does not close the door on a support-paying parent seeking a reduction in child support. Instead, the rationale in Overby shows that courts should look at the net result from the undertaking to see if the children will ultimately benefit from the reduction in support. In Overby, the Florida Supreme Court found that any benefit to the children would likely materialize after the children lose their entitlement to child support. Had the children been younger, the outcome may have been different. Indeed, the Court in Overby stressed “that we are in no way promulgating a bright line rule to be applied” in cases where a parent seeks to reduce child support in order to go back to school. Id.
Below are some recent posts on Florida divorce law: