How is child support determined?
Child support is calculated through use of the Florida Child Support Guidelines. It is based on the combined net incomes of the mother and father, and also typically includes in the calculation the cost of child care and medical insurance for the minor child(ren). Many factors can affect the proper calculation of child support, including who claims the minor child as a dependent for income tax purposes, whether someone is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, and the time-sharing (visitation) that each party has with the minor child(ren). This last factor, the time-sharing, frequently can have a significant impact on the child support that is exchanged. Therefore, it is best to consult with an experienced Family Law attorney before agreeing to a child support obligation. If you agree in writing to an amount that is higher or different than the proper amount (as determined by the Florida Child Support Guidelines), you may not be able to change it later, even if you want to.
How can I be certain I am the biological father? Can I get a DNA test?
In nearly all cases, a person is entitled to a DNA test if they request one, provided paternity has not already been established. The request needs to be made almost immediately in nearly all cases. If it is a Dept of Revenue case, then the alleged father needs to request a DNA test at the very first hearing, before paternity and child support are established. It doesn't matter if you have already signed the birth certificate. The birth certificate is only evidence that you "might be" the biological father. You are still entitled to a DNA test. If it is a Paternity or Divorce case, then a Motion will need to be filed. The Judge will then determine whether or not the Motion should be granted. This can depend on many factors; therefore, if you are not certain if you are the biological father, you should consult with an experienced Family Law attorny as soon as possible.
I have a child support hearing coming up with the Department of Revenue. Will timesharing or visitation be established at the same time?
No. The only thing that the Department of Revenue establishes is who the biological father is (paternity), who the child predominately resides with, and what the proper amount of child support should be according to the Florida Child Support Guidelines. In order to have the Courts address the issues of parental responsibility and time-sharing (visitation), a paternity action would need to be filed.
When am I entitled to a modification of child support?
If it has been three years or more since the current order was entered or last reviewed for modification and it is a Department of Revenue case, then you may be entitled to an automatic review (you have to request one). However, the amount will only change if, based on your and the other party's current financial circumstances, the "new" guidelines amount is at least 10% or $25 per month (whichever is greater) different than the previously ordered child support amount. If it has been less than three years since the current order was entered or last reviewed for modification, the order can still be modified if there has been a substantial change in circumstances. To be statutorily defined as a "substantial change in circumstances", the "new" guidelines amount (based on current financial and other information) must be at least 15% or $50 per month (whichever is greater) different than the previously ordered child support obligation.
What types of situations would be a substantial change in circumstances warranting a modification of child support?
There are many circumstances which can create a "substantial change in circumstances" that warrant a modification of ongoing child support. These include, but are not limited to, child care costs significantly changing, health insurance costs significantly changing, extended unemployment or a change in employment, substantially reduced or increased income, the emancipation of one of the minor children, a significant change in the time-sharing or visitation arrangement and the failure of one party to regularly exercise previously ordered time-sharing that affected their child support obligation, to just name a few. If you think you may be entitled to or need a modification of your currently ordered child support, contact my office and schedule a free, initial telephone consultation. We can run "rough numbers" over the telephone in order to determine whether you may, in fact, be entitled to a modification of your currently ordered monthly child support obligation.
When does monthly child support end in Florida?
In Florida, the child support obligation continues until the child has reached the age of eighteen, died, married, or become otherwise emancipated, except that if the child is between the ages of 18 and 19 and is still in high school, child support is paid until he graduates from high school or attains the age of 19, whichever first occurs. There is also some recent case law that states that even if the child has attained the age of 19, if he has not graduated from high school AND if this is because the parents mutually agreed to hold the child back a year or two in school AND if this is why he has not graduated from high school (not through some truancy or delinquency of his own), then child support can continue past the age of 19 and until graduation. Additionally, if there is a child who has a severe mental or physical disability such that they may never become self supporting, child support can continue past the age of 18.
Do I have a legal obligation to continue child support or pay for college expenses if my child goes to college after graduating from high school?
In Florida, once your general child support obligation ends as stated above, typically by the child reaching the age of 18, there is no legal obligation to continue to support the child or pay for college expenses. However, if you have previously agreed to continuing the child support obligation or contributing to college expenses AND that agreement has been ratified by a Court Order, then you would have created a binding obligation for yourself that is enforceable.
I have one child that is turning 18 and my current child support is for more than one child. Will it automatically change? Or can I just reduce it?
Unless the current Order establishing your ongoing child support obligation specifically delineates between the children and the amount of child support that is to be paid, with specific dates stating when the amount changes, No, it will not. Your monthly child support obligation will not automatically change. And if you unilaterally reduce the monthly payment, you will be creating a child support arrearage for yourself and could possibly end up in contempt of court for failing to comply with a Court Order. Even if the parties agree to reduce the child support, something MUST be filed with the courts and ratified by a Court Order for the ongoing child support amount to be changed. I can't tell you how many times someone has contacted me for advice because one of their minor children reached the age of 18 and the parties had "agreed" to a lesser amount that was never ratified by a Court Order, only to now find out that they now owe thousands of dollars in arrears!
My eldest child turned 18 a while ago, but we never did anything. Will the modification retroact to the date that the eldest child emancipated?
In most circumstances, No, Child Support modifications typically only retroact to the date that a Supplemental Petition or Joint Stipulation for Modification is filed. Therefore, it is of tantamount importance that if one of your children is emancipating and you are entitled to a modification of your ongoing child support obligation, you either file a Supplemental Petition for Modification of Child Support prior to the change occurring or, if the parties can agree, file a Joint Stipulation for Modification of Child Support based on the substantial change.
Does the amount of timesharing that a parent has with the minor child affect child support?
Yes, it can affect child support if the time-sharing is considered substantial contact, or 40% or more of the overnights. This is because, the legislature in determining the child support guidelines, contemplated that if the child was spending that much time with one of the parents, then they were already contributing to the support of the child by virtue of the amount of time that they were spending with the child. This doesn't mean that there won't be any child support paid at all, just that there is a second calculation that has to be done to determine what the appropriate amount of child support to be exchanged should be, and this is affected by whether it is 40%, 45% or 50% of the time. This law is in the process of being modified to apply even when someone has 20% of the overnights, so if you think this situation may be applicable to you, you should consult with an experienced Family Law attorney.