Child support is a financial obligation imposed by a court that one parent gives to the other to support a child in meeting daily necessities such as clothing, food, and housing when the parents no longer live together in the same household.
Florida uses Child Support Guidelines to establish this amount, but several issues can also impact how much is paid each month. Here’s what you need to know about the child support process and how those issues could affect you.
- Who Must Pay Child Support in Florida
- How is Child Support Determined in Florida?
- Which Agency Handles Child Support Matters in Florida?
- How Do I Ask for Child Support?
- Factors that May Impact Child Support
- Verifying Paternity
- Enforcing a Florida Child Support Order
- Modifying Florida Child Support Payments
- Child Support and Taxes
- When Does Child Support End in Florida?
Who Must Pay Child Support in Florida
Both parents are required by law to support their minor children in Florida. When parents separate or divorce, this does not relieve them of their obligation, and child support must be put in place to protect the child’s best interests.
According to Florida child support laws, parents are not permitted to renounce their child support responsibilities and owe a legal and moral obligation to support their minor child.
All child support payments are intended solely for the child receiving them, but some benefits may flow to the non-paying parent in certain situations.
For example, child support payments may cover:
- Basic Living Expenses for clothing, groceries, eating out, school lunches, housing, transportation, utilities, etc.
- Educational Expenses may include tuition, clothes, books, supplies, and extracurricular activities.
- Medical Expenses for all out-of-pocket medical costs are essential to keep a child in good health.
- Other Expenses that ensure a healthy and positive lifestyle beyond basic living expenses. That may include activities such as summer camps, swimming lessons, and movie tickets.
How is Child Support Determined in Florida?
The Florida Department of Revenue Child Support Program works with Florida courts to administer child support services. Courts are required to follow Florida’s Child Support Guidelines as detailed in the 2020 Florida Statute § 61.30
Florida uses the income shares model to determine child support payments. Under this model, the state will consider each parent’s gross income from various sources, including salary, disability benefits, worker’s compensation, and more, to determine a base child support Guideline amount.
If required, the court will also consider other relevant factors, including the needs of the children, ages, station in life, and standard of living. Certain deductions are allowed to come up with each parent’s net monthly income.
The average time to get a support order is between four and nine months. Reasons for the varying timeframe include if the state can’t locate one of the parents, employment and income information can’t be verified, or a parent lives in another state or country.
The Florida Child Support Guidelines generate a basic calculation that creates a support amount the noncustodial parent will pay the custodial parent when one parent has primary custody while the other parent has visitation of 20% of overnights or less. Courts assume that the custodial parent’s portion is already allocated to the direct costs of child-rearing.
Additional calculations are needed for shared custody if a parenting plan includes significant timesharing, with each parent having the children for at least 20% of the year’s overnights.
The court normally uses a four-step analysis to establish the amount of child support in cases involving shared custody.
The first step is to analyze the Guidelines to determine the entire amount of child support that is due.
Next, the court will decide on each parent’s portion. Each parent’s share is calculated by dividing their monthly income by their combined monthly income.
The court will then calculate the percentage of time each parent has custody of the child. For example, if the parents share custody 50/50, their liability will be split 50/50.
The fourth step is to review the Child Support Guidelines to see how much each parent is responsible. The overall child support in Florida will be proportioned by the percentage of time each parent has custody of the child.
Additional computations are required if the total monthly net income exceeds $10,000. The amount over $10,000 will be determined by the number of children and the amount of income that exceeds $10,000.
Read More: Uncontested Divorce in Florida
Which Agency Handles Child Support Matters in Florida?
The Florida Department of Revenue Child Support Program oversees child support administration in the state.
Program services include:
- Locate parents and assets
- Establish paternity
- Establish and modify child support orders
- Monitor and take action to help parents comply with child support orders
- Receive and distribute child support payments
- Educate and assist parents and the public
The program does NOT assist with visitation or custody.
NOTE: The Florida Department of Revenue provides child support services in all but two Florida counties. The agency partners with the State Attorney’s Office for services in Miami-Dade County and the Manatee County Clerk of Court for services in Manatee County.
Payments must be made through the Florida State Disbursement Unit (FLSDU), where parents can make payments online. Parents can also send their child support payments via money transfer services or mail to the FLSDU.
Mail payments to the Florida State Disbursement Unit at:
Florida State Disbursement Unit
P.O. Box 8500
Tallahassee, Florida 32314-8500
The Child Support Program provides electronic disbursement of child support payments using a smiONE Visa Prepaid Card or direct deposit to a checking or savings account.
How Do I Ask for Child Support?
Parents can apply for child support online by visiting the local Florida child support office or sending paper applications through the mail.
Parents in Miami-Dade County should file for child support through the Central Depository Child Support and Alimony Office or the Family Court Self-Help Program.
Parents based in Manatee County should contact the Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller of Manatee County.
Factors that May Impact Child Support
When determining the amount of support, a judge frequently refers to the Florida Child Support Guidelines. However, the court also has the authority to deviate from the Guidelines.
Child support, in any case, must be reasonable and not force a parent to pay more than they can afford. The court will consider all relevant factors when deciding whether to depart from the Guidelines. These criteria include but are not limited to the child’s needs, the style of living, each parent’s age, the child’s age, and each parent’s financial situation.
A written explanation is required if the court deviates from the Child Support Guidelines by more than 5%.
Income will be imputed for an unemployed or underemployed parent when that employment or underemployment is voluntary unless there are physical or mental incapacity issues or other circumstances over which the parent has no control. Imputation of probable earnings will be based on recent work history, occupational qualifications, and prevailing earnings level in the community.
Child care and medical insurance costs will also affect the final child support amount. Extraordinary medical, psychological, educational, or dental expenses may also impact an award.
In addition, a child’s independent income could also affect a child support award, as will the total available assets of the obligee, obligor, and the child.
Count consideration will also be given when the application of the child support guidelines requires a parent to pay more than 55 percent of their gross income for a child support obligation.
The court will also review the impact of a reasonable and necessary existing expense or debt. That may include any essential expense or obligation the parents jointly incurred during the marriage.
If a parent’s recurring income is insufficient to meet the child’s needs, the court may order child support to be paid from nonrecurring income or assets.
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If you had a child out of wedlock and are unsure who the father is or need to establish legal paternity, the Florida Child Support Enforcement Program can help you.
In Florida, there are five ways to establish paternity:
- Acknowledgment of paternity
- Administrative order based on genetic testing
- Court order
Read More: The Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children (and How to Help Them Cope)
Enforcing a Florida Child Support Order
Florida has rigorous child support rules to guarantee a parent pays the proper amount of child support. Several options are available to enforce child support payments.
The Florida Department of Revenue or a private child support law firm may be able to assist a parent using one or more of the following:
- Wage garnishment. Florida courts can garnish earnings through automatic deductions from the payer’s salary by implementing an Income Withholding Order.
- Tax return deductions. Child support payments can also be deducted from tax returns.
- Driver’s license suspension.
- Professional license suspension. The suspension can be lifted if it would cause irreparable damage to the payor and would not assist in achieving the goal of collecting payment.
- Contempt for failure to pay child support. Failure to comply with a court order of support can result in civil or criminal contempt. Civil contempt is more common. To be found guilty of criminal contempt, the evidence must show that the defendant can pay and that their failure to pay is willful and intentional.
If you are guilty of criminal contempt for failing to pay, you may be ordered to serve up to 180 days in jail. Rather than punishment, the detention is intended to induce payment, and a court will frequently dismiss a contempt charge if the offender pays a certain amount.
What about back owed child support in Florida?
A parent can seek back owed child support in Florida. The amount of child support will be paid based on the Florida Child Support Guidelines. Retroactive child support dates back to when parents stopped living together in the same home. However, retroactive child support cannot exceed 24 months.
Usually, retroactive support is added to the monthly payment of future child support. The court must also promptly consider promptly allowing a payment plan for the total retroactive child support.
What are the enforcement issues when parents live in different states?
When parents live in different states, it can create jurisdictional issues can arise when parents live in other states. If the case is not filed correctly, A Florida court may not have the authority to enforce the support.
To avoid this, parents and their attorneys should reference the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) for such cases. Under federal law, each state must have the UIFSA in effect to enforce child support orders. The UIFSA provides uniformity amongst the states for child support processes and procedures.
For example, if a Florida family law court issues a child support order and the father subsequently moves to Alabama, the UIFSA will assist in enforcing the order in Alabama.
What if a parent tries to hide income to avoid child support?
Some parents will underreport income to avoid or lower a child support payment.
If proven that the other party is hiding income, the court can impute a salary on that parent. The court can also impute income if the other party is unemployed or underemployed. The income should be based on the parent’s employment potential and probable earning capacity.
In imputation cases, the court will consider the parent’s work history, qualifications, and prevailing income level in the community. A judge must make specific factual findings based on evidence relating to the current job market, the parent’s employment history, and the prevailing salary in the local community to impute income.
Modifying Florida Child Support Payments
A parent seeking to modify an existing child support order must demonstrate that there has been a significant change in circumstances. A parent’s change in circumstances must be substantial, permanent, and involuntary. To prove a permanent change, a parent must show the change has lasted six months or more.
Examples of significant changes may include:
- Change in Income. In most cases, a modification may be requested if there is at least a 10% increase or decrease in income. Remember that even if your income has decreased, this does not necessarily imply that your support payments will also reduce.
- Permanent Timesharing Adjustment. In general, the more time a parent spends with their child, the lesser the amount of child support they will be required to pay.
- Disability or Education-Based Agreements. If the child cannot live independently due to mental or physical inability that began before 18, or if the child between the ages of 18 and 19 is still in high school and reasonably expected to graduate before the age of 19, a court may order continued child support past the age of 18.
You must file a Supplemental Petition for Modification of Child Support to request a child support modification. Also, either parent with a child support case can ask the Child Support Program to review their support order to see if it should be changed.
The court or administrative agency that issued the order can change an order to pay child support. However, until an order is changed, terminated, or vacated, the amount ordered is owed and legally enforceable.
If another state issued the support order, that state might need to review and modify the order. If that is the case and you make the request to the Child Support Program, the agency will forward your request to the other state.
Child Support and Taxes
Child support payments are neither deductible by the payer nor taxable to the recipient. Said another way, child support is nontaxable.
However, you may be able to claim the child as a dependent. Generally, the custodial parent is treated as one who provides more than half of the child’s support. In some cases, the noncustodial parent may be treated as the parent who provided more than half of the child’s support.
Many agreements include a provision that each parent declares half the children as dependents when there is an even number of children. The parents alternate years claiming the child for an odd number of children. In this situation, parents may need to submit Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent, or a similar statement.
When Does Child Support End in Florida?
Support orders include details about when support ends for a child. Usually, child support will stop when the child turns 18. But there are situations when support could continue past 18.
Some of those situations are:
- The support order specifically says that the support will continue past age 18
- The child is disabled
- The support order is from another state where support continues past age 18
- The child is still in high school but will graduate before they turn 19, although support doesn’t automatically continue in this situation. Contact the appropriate governing agency six months before the child turns 18, so it can be determined if support should continue until graduation.
The other thing to note is that parents who owe past-due child support must pay it no matter how old the child is.