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10/04/12 It's The Law: How Child Support Is Calculated In Florida

Question:

Can you tell me how child support is calculated in Florida?

Answer:

Lawyers, judges, and the legislature are continuously looking for ways to reduce issues in divorce cases. Florida has detailed statutes addressing how property is to be divided upon divorce. Even more detailed are the child support guidelines in Section 61.30 of Florida Statutes.

The idea behind the child support guidelines and statutes addressing property distribution is that such statutes allow both parties to predict with great accuracy the result of a trial. Greater certainty of prediction is supposed to lead to greater likelihood of settlement. And, almost everyone agrees that a settlement reached voluntarily is better than rolling the dice on a judge's decision. Any agreement between the parties is more likely to be followed then would be an edict by a judge.

The statutory guidelines do not mandate child support be awarded in accordance with the guidelines. But, if a judge varies by more than 5% from the guideline amount, the judge must explain with specificity the basis for deviation. In most cases, the guidelines are followed.

The child support guidelines are based on income. They propose that as income increases the amount spent on children also rises. The guidelines require a determination of the net after-tax income of both parents as the starting point for calculating support. That income generally includes income from all sources including salary, commission, disability, workers compensation, retirement or annuity payments, Social Security, interest dividends, rental income and even employment related reimbursed expenses to the extent they reduce living expenses. If a parent is unemployed or underemployed, the court will impute income to that parent.

In 2010, the legislature amended the statute to more specifically address how income is imputed. Generally, the judge is required to review the parent's recent work history, occupational qualifications, and prevailing earning level in the community if such information is available. If sufficient information is not available, the judge is to automatically impute income equivalent to the median income of year round full-time workers from current population reports of the United States Bureau of the Census. The court may refuse to impute income if the court finds it is necessary for the parent to stay home with the child or if the parent's unemployment or underemployment is not voluntary.

The statute directs judges to deduct certain expenses from gross income to determine net income. This is a common sense approach, since allowable deductions would not be available for support. Deductions include taxes, social security, mandatory union and retirement payments, health insurance payments, court-ordered support for other children and alimony.

After determining the combined incomes of the parties, the statute provides a guideline amount for net incomes from $800.00 to $10,000.00 monthly and a formula for higher incomes.

The parent with whom the child resides most of the time receives support from the other parent calculated by multiplying the total support amount by the other parent's percentage of the parties' total net income. Health insurance and child care costs are in addition to the Child Support Guidelines and are apportioned between the parents.

The statute goes on to provide additional factors to be considered by a judge and add flexibility to the final decision. The court may adjust the child support award based upon such factors as a child's extraordinary medical or educational expenses, independent income of a child and even age of a child, taking into account greater needs of older children. Child support may also be adjusted where the child spends a significant amount of time with both parents, thereby reducing the financial expenditures of the primary residential parent.

The statute goes a long way toward ending the fight over child support. But, the issue is still complicated and makes good legal advice in this area critical. I suggest you consult with an attorney for guidance and to discuss other matters that may be pertinent in your situation.

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