Question: I am getting divorced and my spouse has offered to pay $500.00 per month in child support. How can I tell if that is fair?
Answer: Florida child support is largely determined by statutory guidelines. Section 61.30 of Florida Statutes sets guidelines established by the legislature along with factors to be considered in determining the amount of child support. The guidelines were adopted in large part to eliminate argument over child support issues. A judge may vary up to 5% from the guideline amount after considering all relevant factors. Child support which varies more than 5% from the guideline amount may only be awarded after the judge makes written findings explaining why the guideline amount would be unjust or inappropriate.
The most important factor in determining amount of child support is the after tax income of both parents. Income is not limited to salary or wages, but includes bonuses, retirement payments, social security, interest dividends and even alimony from a previous marriage. If a parent is unemployed or underemployed, the court can impute income if it finds the unemployment or underemployment is voluntary. The court must identify the amount and source of imputed income, which means it must be shown that the unemployed or underemployed parent could obtain a better paying job and the income that would result from that job.
Once the net after tax income of the parents is determined, the guidelines set an amount of child support for the combined incomes. For example, total child support for a child whose parents have a net after tax combined income of $5,000.00 per month is $1,000.00 monthly.
Each parent is responsible for a portion of the child support equal to that parent's percentage of the combined net after tax income of the parents. In a typical situation, that means the parent whose residence is the primary residence of the child or children will receive payments from the other parent and will not have to account for the recipient's portion of the child support obligation.
The statute recognizes that there are certain expenses, not present in all cases, which are often paid for children. When those expenses are present, they are added to the child support obligation and split between the parties in proportion to their incomes. Those expenses include the following:
- Child care costs incurred due to employment, job search or education calculated to result in employment or to enhance income of either parent.
- Health insurance costs resulting from health insurance ordered by a court and any non-covered medical, dental or prescription expenses of a child.
The court may consider a wide variety of factors to justify deviation from child support guideline amounts. Those factors include:
- Extraordinary medical, psychological, educational or dental expenses.
- Independent income of a child (not including supplemental social security income).
- Seasonal variations in a parent's income.
- Age of a child, taking into account greater needs of older children.
- Special needs, such as costs associated with disability.
- Total available assets of the payor, recipient and the child.
- Impact of income tax laws.
- If application of the guideline amount requires a person to pay someone more than 55% of his or her gross income.
- The amount of time the child lives with each parent. If a child is with a paying parent a significant period of time, the cost of the recipient parent decrease and the child support obligation of the paying parent decreases as well.
Every court action for child support or modification must be accompanied by an affidavit confirming the party's income, allowable deductions and net income computed in accordance with statute. It is also required that the party submit a child support guidelines worksheet, calculating the amount of child support due under the statute. If a parent believes the court should award more or less than the guideline amount, the parent must file a motion to deviate from the guidelines and specify the reason or reasons for deviation.
Section 61.30 of Florida Statutes is 6 pages long. Although it is an effort to simplify the child support issue, it does not eliminate it. Many factors can affect the ultimate award. You should consult with an experienced attorney before proceeding further.