What is Child Support?
Pursuant to the Florida Statues, child support is the fundamental obligation of the parents to support their minor or legally dependent children.
Calculating Child Support
There are dozens of free child support calculators online. Some of them are fairly good, but getting an accurate number for child support is not as easy as just visiting a website. The Florida Statute Guideline Support formulas used to calculate child support are complicated. Every week we receive a call from a client who thinks he or she knows what child support will be. They are usually way off.
Although child support calculations are based on mathematical formulas, knowing what numbers to enter and which formula to use will be key to an accurate assessment. Improper calculations can lead to mistakes that amount to thousands of dollars over the life of a case.
To properly calculate support under the Florida Guidelines, here are just a few of the factors considered:
- The net incomes of both parties after taxes, health insurance, alimony, support payments, union dues and mandatory retirement payments;
- The cost of the children’s health insurance;
- The cost of daycare;
- Earned income credits, if any;
- Child support paid in other cases;
- Tax exemptions;
- Tax filing status; and
- The number of overnights the children will be spending with each parent.
All of these factors, and more, affect the child support calculations. Attempting to negotiate or litigate a case without knowing how all of these factors interact can drastically impact the outcome of a case.
Net income can be affected greatly by factors such as tax filing status after divorce, claiming the correct number of dependents, income other than W-2 income, alimony or child support paid or received, and health insurance.
To make matters worse, Florida Law offers little protection for the unwary. Most judges will double check a proposed order to ensure that the minimum amount of support is included. However, if excess support is agreed to, the court will not advise the paying spouse that there is an over payment. Once a support amount is set, the amount cannot be changed without a substantial, material, permanent and unanticipated change in circumstances. If child support is not correctly calculated the first time, any mistakes will be very difficult to correct.
Impact of Overnights
Another area of complexity is the proper calculation of overnights. Correctly calculating the number of overnights when factoring holidays, different schedules for different children, and changing school schedules can be daunting. Often times, parents are dead-set on a specific percentage of overnights, without realizing that small changes in the number of overnights may not greatly affect child-support calculations.
How is Child Support Established?
Even further complicating matters is the number of ways that child support can be established. Child support can be established by a circuit court judge, a magistrate, or through an administrative judge. Each of these proceedings follow different rules. Proceedings before magistrates and administrative judges often result in less due process for an unrepresented party. The Florida Department of Revenue, which has private attorneys under contract who do nothing but establish child support, will establish child support for a parent or other person who has a right to receive child support. In an administrative proceeding, failure to respond to a certified letter may lead to the establishment of both ongoing child support and arrears (back child support). It is not uncommon for retroactive child support in the tens of thousands of dollars to be established without a hearing and without the Department of Revenue ever personally serving the payor.
Another pitfall for the unwary is failure to formally petition the court when the parents agree to a change in time-sharing. If the court is not properly notified of a change in time-sharing or a child’s primary residence, child support will continue to accrue even if both parents do not want it to. Courts do not have the authority to retroactively reduce support before a petition is filed with the court.
This article is only a brief summary of some of the issues involved in child support cases. Contacting an experienced attorney is an essential step to make sure that child support is calculated correctly in your case.