Child support is a substantial commitment. Under Florida law, child support payments are intended to be used for your child's portion of expenses such as rent, electricity, food, transportation, and his or her hobbies/entertainment. Determining the appropriate child support payment amount and method can seem daunting, but having a good understanding of the process is invaluable.

Child support obligations under Florida Law

Both parents have a monthly child support obligation. If the child lives with his or her mom, then the child's dad sends his monthly contribution to mom so she can add it to her contribution and use the combined monthly total to pay the child's hobby/entertainment expenses and portion of the household bills. Child support obligations are determined by a three-step process.

How child support is determined in Florida

1. Both parents' income, before expenses, are added together to get a combined income. For example, if both parents make close to minimum wage and dad's income is \$1,290 per month and mom's income is \$1,060 per month, the combined income is \$2,350.

2. Each parent's proportion of the combined income is calculated. In this example, dad's income is 55 percent of the combined income. Mom's income is 45 percent of the combined income.

3. Each parent is assessed a child support obligation proportionate to his or her percentage of the combined income. The Florida legislature has a child support guidelines chart, which provides a predetermined basic monthly child support amount based on the parents' combined income. For the purposes of the example, the chart indicates the basic child support obligation for a combined income of \$2,350 is \$515 per month. Dad would be responsible for 55 percent of the \$515, or \$283.25 per month. Mom would be responsible for 45 percent of the \$515, or \$231.75 per month.

How the child support payments will be made

Once the court has calculated the child support, the court will decide to whom and how the payments will be made. The court can order that the child support payments be made directly to the parent with whom the child lives. If child support payments are made directly, the parents are responsible for keeping accurate records indicating how much and when each payment is made. Alternatively, the court can order child support payments to be made to the state disbursement unit, where it is collected, recorded, and disbursed. The court can order that the child support be paid voluntarily or by an automatic deduction from each paycheck.

Allowable child support deductions

Parents are not allowed to stipulate to a lower child support payment. Only a court order can create or change a child support obligation. However, child support payments can be reduced or increased depending on the proper application of allowable deductions. What constitutes an allowable deduction has been the subject of much controversy and subsequent litigation. Some allowable deductions include the following:

• Mandatory retirement payments
• Other child support payments
• Alimony
• Union dues
• Uniform expenses

An experienced family law attorney will know the most current allowable deductions.

If you fail to make timely child support payments

If you fail to make timely child support payments, you can be held in contempt of court. The court has several tools to encourage parents to pay child support. It can suspend privileges such as the privilege to drive, operate a business, or travel abroad. If you fall behind in child support, the court can order you to sell almost anything you have of value. Additionally, parents who owe overdue child support must use any income tax returns towards their child support balance. Moreover, if the court determines the late-paying parent has money or valuables and is not paying off the child support debt, the court can have him or her put in jail for 5 months and 29 days.

If you need help

If you are concerned that your child support payments haven't been accurately calculated or paid out, an experienced family law attorney can determine the appropriate child support payment amount and method. If you are facing a child support obligation, hiring an attorney is not an expense; it's an investment in your future.