Child support is one of the most highly debated aspects of family law, and one of the most important. In any divorce case where there are minor children involved, child support is a necessity. Florida law mandates that child support orders will end upon the child’s graduation from high school, at age 18 or 19. However, certain factors may affect whether child support continues past high school, including whether the child or children are disabled or attending college. Florida law also has a set of guidelines and calculators in place to determine how much child support should be awarded, and to which parent. In addition, the Department of Revenue for the State of Florida also has guidelines for the enforcement and collection of child support, and related tax matters.
Child Support Guidelines
The State of Florida has a series of processes for determining child support, including taking an in-depth look into the finances of each parent, as well as determining the financial needs of the child. Chapter 61 of Florida’s legal code provides guidelines for calculating child support amounts, which is the first step in the process. Other factors that influence child support determination include:
- Personal health expenses for each parent, such as insurance or medical costs
- Child support or alimony judgments from previous court orders
- Tax-related expenses
- Estimated annual overnights of the children with each parent
- Overall income of each parent, which includes salary, wages, Social Security benefits, disability, pension, workers’ compensation, and self-employment income
- Income earning capability of each parent, which may be determined by level of education, age of each parent, and work history
While each of these factors may be considered, this does not mean that any of them will factor very heavily in the court’s decision regarding child support. In fact, most arguments for reducing the amount of child support to be paid fall outside of the traditional state-mandated calculator.
One of the most common misconceptions about child support is that the court will only award support to women. That is not true. In recent years, Florida law has actually been working diligently toward equal rights for mothers and fathers, including in areas of child custody and support. Therefore, if the court finds that the children are better off living primarily with the father, and the mother has more income, then the father may be awarded child support. It is important that neither parent assume what the court might do, but rather get the guidance of legal counsel who is familiar with child support legal guidelines.
After a child support order has been issued, both the payer and payee will be notified of their individual rights and responsibilities. One of the responsibilities will be to notify the court of any significant changes that may cause the child support order to be modified. Significant changes include loss of employment, remarriage and subsequent divorce, serious injury or illness, or significant increase in income.
Either parent can file a petition for modification of the child support order. The court will then review the facts before making a determination. It is important for both parents to understand that the purpose of child support is to maintain the best interests, health, and safety of the children involved, while also being fair and equitable to each parent.
Child support is one of the few areas of family law that crosses over into the territory of criminal statutes. That is due to several factors, such as:
- When a court orders child support and the payer fails to make payments and uphold the agreement, the criminal justice system can step in and penalize that individual. In some cases, failure to pay child support can result in penalties as severe as incarceration.
- There are also penalties for perjury, or lying to the court in order to gain favor, such as increased child support or child custody rights.
In some child support cases, a Motion for Contempt of court may be filed against one of the parents if he or she is failing to comply with the terms of the child support order. Reasons that a Motion for Contempt may be filed include failure to pay child support or failure to provide adequate housing and stability for children even though payments have been maintained regularly. In order to file a Motion for Contempt, the subject of the motion must be refusing to comply, rather than unable to comply. Additionally, some basic attempt at resolving the issue must have been made, such as a letter to the individual.
When a Motion for Contempt is filed, the court has a few options for taking action and rectifying the situation, such as ordering immediate payment, garnishment of wages or assets, suspended licenses, or even incarceration for failing to comply. Every state, and every situation, is different. This means that individuals considering filing a Motion for Contempt should tread carefully and only file after weighing the positive and negative aspects of taking the matter to court. It is also beneficial for individuals to seek the aid of an attorney who is knowledgeable about the process of researching state law and filing appropriate court motions.
How to Understand Florida Child Support Guidelines
Child support guidelines are outlined carefully in Florida’s legal statutes. The process for determining child support may depend on several factors directly related to each individual case, however the purpose of child support remains the same. In every case, the best interests and well-being of the child or children involved in divorce or family law matters are the main focus of the court.
It is important for any couple contemplating divorce to understand the process of determining child support, as well as the penalties for failing to meet the requirements of the agreement. Part of gaining a solid understanding is securing the aid of an attorney who is experienced in managing sensitive family law matters. There are many complexities in determining and enforcing child support, but no case is hopeless.
Contact our experienced Gainesville Child Support Attorney today to get your questions answered. Call our office to schedule a free consultation for your case.