It's The Law
Statutory Formula to Calculate Child Support
I am getting divorced. We've been arguing about almost everything except custody. My spouse wants alimony and child support. My attorney says child support is easy to calculate but has not explained it further. Can you explain how child support is calculated?
To limit issues in divorce cases and shorten court time, the legislature adopted statutory child support guidelines in 1987. The guidelines are to be applied by judges in every case. They bring some certainty to an issue that can be quite contentious. The guidelines allow for deviation, which opens the door to argument in many cases.
The guidelines confirm that both parents have an obligation to support their children. In general, the guidelines set a child support amount based on the net after tax income of both parents and make each parent responsible for that portion of child support equal to their portion of the combined net income. The Statute directs that child care costs related to employment or education be added to the total child support obligation along with court ordered health insurance and non-insured medical dental and prescription expenses. Any portion of the child support which is being paid by a parent (i.e. insurance) is deducted from that parent's child support obligation.
A judge can deviate 5% from the child support set by statute, but deviation of more than 5% from the guidelines requires written explanation by the judge of why the guideline amount would be inappropriate.
Income of a parent includes income from all sources and it is not limited to salary. It includes wages, employer paid benefits, rental and investment income, unemployment or workers compensation benefits and even alimony from a previous marriage. If a parent is unemployed or under employed, the court may impute income to that parent. A judge may deviate from the guideline amount by more than 5% based upon factors set out in the statute. Those factors include the following:
- Extraordinary medical educational or psychological expenses of a child
- Independent income received by the child
- a parent's payment of support for the parent's mother or father that has been regularly paid and which is needed by the mother or father.
- Age of a child, with the presumption that older children have greater needs
- Special needs of a disabled child
- Total available assets of each parent and the child
The statute creates a presumption that child support in a particular case should not be more than 55% of a parent's gross income.
The amount of time a child or children spend with each parent can impact the child support paid by one to the other. If a child spends a significant amount of time with one parents but less than 20% of the over nights with that parent, the Court has discretion to reduce that parent's child support obligation. If a child spends at least 20% of the over nights with a paying parent, the statute includes a method of calculating percentage of over-night stays by the child to reduce the paying parent's payment.
In addition to the statutory factors, Florida courts have considered other matters to justify deviation from the statutory guidelines. Those include payments to support children who were born prior to the children in a particular case (but not children born after a child support obligation arises) and when there are multiple children and each parent shares a majority of over nights with a different child.
Although the statute is an effort to bring relative certainty to a contentious issue, the authority of judges to deviate from guideline amounts leaves the door open for arguments. Judges attempt to stay close to the line in these cases to discourage the battle ground that existed prior to adopting guideline amounts. But, in a proper a case, judges are willing to deviate. This is not an area for the inexperienced and should be carefully reviewed with your attorney as part of your divorce case.
By: William G. Morris, Esquire
William G. Morris is an attorney with offices at 247 North Collier Boulevard on Marco Island, Florida. His practice covers a broad range of subjects, including civil litigation, real estate, business and corporate law, estate planning and probate, domestic relations and contracts. He writes this column periodically with respect to legal matters that frequently affect non-lawyers. The information contained in this column is not intended as legal advice and, of necessity, is generalized. For questions about specific circumstances, the reader should consult a qualified attorney.
Questions for this column can be sent to: William G. Morris, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax, (239) 642-0722 or
The Marco Island Eagle
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