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Florida Child Support Laws: A Simple Guide To Legal Rights & Payments

Child support hearing document and pen

Child support in Florida is governed by statute. The Florida courts can order a party or a parent to pay child support at any time in accordance with the child support guidelines. Florida child support continues until a child’s 18th birthday, or the parties agree otherwise.

The court can choose to order child support for a dependent person beyond the age of 18 because of a mental or physical incapacity that began before the person reached the age of 18. The court can also order child support for a person between the ages of 18 and 19 who is still in high school, performing in good faith, with a reasonable expectation of graduation before age 19.

Child Support Is A Legal Right Of The Child

When you’re in the middle of a heated child custody battle, remember to put the child first. The Florida courts do.  It is a very strong public policy in Florida to require a parent to provide support for a minor child. Florida doesn’t look at it as money for a mom or dad, but rather as money for the child.  Child support is mandatory in Florida.

Thus, child support is a right belonging to the child. That means that in the event of a divorce parents can’t contract away or waive their obligation to pay child support. In Florida, that means an agreement where one parent agrees to leave the child alone in exchange for the other parent not paying support is illegal.

This doesn’t just apply to child support going forward, but also retroactive support. Retroactive support applies to child support obligations that have accumulated and haven’t been paid yet.

Paying Florida Child Support

Florida Child Support Payment Information

Florida guidelines have made the actual computation of child support an easy formula if you have the numbers to put into the formula.

This formula requires the following inputs: the income of the parties, minus deductions and exclusions, also adjusted for child care expenses, health expenses, and overnights that the child is with each parent.

Once this information is gathered, we enter them into the machine and crunch the numbers. Really, the hardest part is often figuring out what these inputs are. While you read through the next sections, jot down some of the rough numbers and head over to our Florida Child Support Calculator. Just keep in mind that your child support amount is not set in stone and can change if there is a sudden change of family circumstances.

Determining Income

Income in Florida means any form of payment to an individual including but not limited to wages, salary, commissions, bonuses, compensation as an independent contractor, workers’ compensation, disability benefits, annuity and retirement benefits, pensions, dividends, interest, royalties, trusts, and any other payments made by a private entity, the federal government, or the local government. Even disability benefits and unemployment compensation are used for the purposes of establishing a child support amount.

Income must come from a legal basis; for example, the court is not allowed to award child support on income someone makes from a career of selling illegal drugs.

When the court uses its discretion to determine gross income it can include and look at:

  • Salary or wages.
  • Bonuses, commissions, allowances, overtime, tips, and similar payments.
  • Business income, that is gross receipts minus the ordinary and necessary expenses required to produce income. Also, sources such as self-employment, partnerships, close corporations, and independent contracts.
  • Disability benefits, including VA disability.
  • Workers’ compensation benefits and settlements.
  • Unemployment compensation.
  • Pension, retirement, or annuity payments.
  • Social Security benefits.
  • Spousal support.
  • Interest and dividends.
  • Rental income.
  • Income from royalties, trusts, or states.
  • Reimbursed expenses or in-kind payments to the extent that they reduce living expenses. These include:
    • per diem if the per diem reduces living expenses,
    • clothing allowances if they reduce living expenses,
    • automobile,
    • residents, new gifts, and new gains derived from dealings and property if they are regular and recurring.

Florida resident explaining child support.

Deductions and Exclusions

There are various deductions that are allowed by statute that we can take off the gross income. The child support calculations usually do this for us. For example, we can take off:

  • Federal, local, and state income taxes.
  • Self-employment tax or federal insurance contributions.
  • Mandatory union dues and mandatory retirement payments (not voluntary just mandatory).
  • Health insurance payments, excluding payments for coverage of the minor child.
  • Court-ordered support for other children (which is actually paid).
  • Spousal support paid pursuant to a court order from a previous marriage or the marriage currently before the court.

Once we take the gross income and subtract from it the deductions and exclusions we have the net income ‑ the number that child support is based on.

Adjusting for Child Care and Health Insurance Expenses

We can put child care and health insurance in the child support order, but many times we keep it separate and just have the parties pay their pro rata share. That’s because as mentioned above these numbers tend to change throughout time, and it’s easier to just keep them separate. That way, you don’t have to change the child support number itself every six to 12 months.

Adjusting the Number of Overnights

Finally, the child support formula takes into account the number of overnights. The logic is that if a child is with Mom 100% of the time and not with Dad, then Dad should be paying the highest amount of child support because Mom is the one who is paying for the kids on a day-to-day basis. Conversely, if the child is with Mom 50% of the time and Dad 50% of the time, then the parent who is the breadwinner should be paying less child support than he would otherwise because that parent is also paying for reasonable expenses 50% of the time on day-to-day activities for the child.

Paying Child Support

You can pay child support online with credit card or echeck. You can also pay with cash through money transfer services like amscot.com or moneygram.com.  If child support eservices isnt your thing, you can also send checks directly to the Florida Department of Revenue.

Florida State Disbursement Unit
P.O. Box 8500
Tallahassee, Florida 32314-8500

At the Clerks of Court website (https://www.myfloridacounty.com/csepublic/), you can get official records like payment history and recent payments as long as you have an account.

 Clerks of Court Website

If you need additional guidance, contact your local country clerk.

What Does Child Support Cover?

Child support covers everything a child needs from housing, food, and clothing to education, fun, medical, and extracurricular activities.

Each child support order in Florida must also contain a provision for health insurance for the minor child. If health insurance is reasonable in cost and accessible to the child, and the court will make sure one of the parents is providing it. Of course, this will get factored into the ultimate child support obligation, and the parent paying the health insurance will catch a “break” on the amount of child support he must pay.

The court also addresses the issues of non-covered medical, dental, vision, and prescription medication expenses of the minor child. Usually, this is allocated to each parent on a percentage basis. This can be a 50-50 percentage, where each parent pays them equally, or this can be on a pro rata basis meaning each parent pays a percentage based on the combined income of the parties. In any case, this must be addressed in any child support order.

Now it is not a requirement that each parent pay for all of non-covered medical expenses, just those that are reasonable and necessary.

Usually we don’t put uncovered health insurance and other reasonably necessary medical, dental, vision, and prescription medication expenses in the child support guidelines themselves. That’s because uncovered expenses tend to change month-to-month, and we can’t predict what they will be. A child could go many months without so much as getting a scratch, and then end up in the emergency room three times the next month. That means that one of the parents is ultimately going to pay the initial bill, and the other parent will have to reimburse the parent who fully paid that bill.

To handle this, we will want language in any agreement that spells out exactly when the parent who paid the initial bill will notify the payee parent of the amount paid. We’ll want that first parent to also include a receipt when notifying the parent. Then we want to set up a time frame for when the payee parent is going to pay back his or her reasonable share of the uncovered expense. Ensuring that we set up and specifically spell out the actual terms of how this will transpire will save the parties from much grief down the road.

Other common Florida child support questions revolve around the following:

Life Insurance

Finally, courts can order life insurance to the extent that it’s necessary to protect an award of child support. The person who’s asking for the life insurance has to do a few things. They have to show the necessity for insurance protection, the cost and availability of insurance, that a premium is reasonable, that the person who would be paying the life insurance can afford it, and any other special circumstances that would necessitate such a security requirement.

In practice, we want to make sure that the provisions for insurance include that the beneficiary designation is revocable, that the payment of premiums shall be made in a timely manner, that the insurance company should inform the awardee if the premium is late or not made and if there is an attempt to change the beneficiary, that annually the obligor shall provide proof that the policy is in full force and effect, that the obligor provide correspondence to the insurance company of the provisions and obligations, and that if the awardee must enforce the provisions, and the obligor will be responsible for the awardee’s fees and costs.

Private School

The court can order private school, but it is a more difficult uphill battle. In order for the court to award child support increases by ordering private school expenses paid, the court must find that the expenses are part of that normal standard of living for the parties, and that attendance at private schools is in the children’s best interest. The court needs to make a written finding of fact on this, and in practice the courts would much rather have the parents agree on private school.

Income Tax Exemption for Dependents

The child support number guideline also changes based on which parents are claiming the dependent care tax credit, earned income tax credit, and the tax exemption for dependents with the IRS. That’s because if you are claiming the child, then your net income is actually going up for a given year since you’ll be paying less taxes. In practice, the tax exemption is usually worth more to the parent who has it, but the other parent can take comfort in knowing that their financial obligation is reduced accordingly.

Be careful: there is a phase-out for the exemption based upon the income of the parties. There are cases where a parent will make so much money that they won’t get any value from the exemption; here it can be a win-win if the parent who makes less money takes both exemptions.

Spousal Challenges and Florida Child Support Enforcement

In some cases a party will be entitled to credits in a child support obligation for additional monies that were paid before the order went into effect. So for example, if a father is paying $500 a month to the mother via check for child support even though a child support order hasn’t been issued yet, and then the parents end up with a child support order, it would only be fair for that father to get credit for what he has already paid when determining if and when he had any retroactive support due.

However, be careful: not all money paid to an estranged spouse will be money that will be allocated for child support. So for example, it is common for two parents to separate prior to divorce and one parent to contribute to the household expenses for the other parent. In these cases, the court may conclude that those monies were to help keep up marital assets, like the house, and the intent was not for child support. The court in this case might not give a credit. The best-case scenario is to try to agree from the beginning the purpose behind paying any sort of temporary support to another parent, because details matter in this case.

Imputing Income

In practice, we often have a party who is either not playing along with showing us what their income is, or is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. The court has the discretion to impute a wage or income to these parents that is fair, so that the child support obligation is not unfair to the other party. In other words, it’s not fair if a mom doesn’t work during a divorce so that she can get a heightened child support amount. Or conversely, if Dad is a dentist and he decides to not go to work for a couple of months it wouldn’t be fair to Mom to reduce his child support obligation.

A Party that Doesn’t Play Along

Sometimes one parent just doesn’t want to play along and/or doesn’t provide financial documentation so that we can figure out what their income is. Consider the parent who is a small business owner, or works as an independent contractor. It’s often not as simple as pulling a W-2 to determine the wage or the fair income according to statute for these parents. So, if one of these parents doesn’t play along and is difficult with providing the documentation needed for the divorce attorney to figure out their true income, we may need to ask the court to just impute a wage based on the median income of full-time workers as derived from the U.S. Census Bureau. We have the ability to do that under a new statute.

An Unemployed or Underemployed Parent

Income can be imputed to an unemployed or underemployed parent when we find that this is happening voluntarily. It would not happen in a case where that parent is physically or mentally incapacitated or involved in other circumstances over which that parent has no control.

We need to have substantial, competent evidence that the parent is underemployed or not employed, and evidence that he or she could earn imputed income.

When imputing income, the court needs to set forth factual findings concerning probable potential earning levels, sources of imputed and actual income, and adjustments to income. One thing the courts pretty much can’t do is impute income based on gifts. The exception is if the gift is regular and recurring. So in some cases, Grandma or Grandpa may be giving a certain amount of money to the parents on a monthly basis. In that case, we can impute income.

So Where Do We Look to Impute Income?

So the first place to start is looking at an unemployed or underemployed parent’s recent work history. The court is allowed to impute a level of income that a parent has previously earned. This can be relevant evidence of probable earning capacity in a similar position.

We can also look at occupational qualifications. Usually this requires expert testimony to establish the earning level for people of a particular profession.

Prevailing earning levels in the community, if available, can be shown through an expert’s testimony; we can also use the U.S. Census Bureau’s numbers to help us figure this out.

When a Parent Stays Home With a Child

While the court is likely to impute income of at least minimum wage to a parent who is unemployed and has the ability to work, the court does have the discretion to refuse to impute income if the court finds that parent needed to stay home with their child or children in order to help raise them. This argument will be much stronger if the children are young and not school age, and much weaker if the children are already in school.

Deviating from the Child Support Guidelines

In some cases the court will want to deviate from the child support number that is crunched by the child support guidelines. This can happen if one party specifically files a motion requesting it and there’s a good faith basis to do so. We would see this in the case of a parent’s share if the child has extraordinary medical, psychological, or dental expenses. So if a child has extraordinary mental health needs and the parent can show that child’s health needs will regularly increase expenses, then in that case we could see the child support number increase.

Non-involvement of a Parent

Sometimes we have a child support award and one of the parents just stops seeing the child or is otherwise not involved. A parent’s failure to regularly get involved and take time with the kids can result in the court adjusting the child support number.

Children Born Later

Another common scenario is a parent who has a child support obligation, and then has children later with another person. In general, this isn’t something the courts will consider.

Enforcing Child Support

If you are having a hard time collecting child support, it might be time to contact a Family Law specialist. Before you do, be sure to read: When Your Ex Won’t Pay Alimony or Child Support [What to Do]

Below is a child support checklist that covers just about everything concern child support cases in Florida.

  • Determining Income Determine if party has verifiable ‘W2″ employment. Bonuses, tips, and overtime are all included.
  • Small Businesses income: Small businesses often unde-report taxable income, leading to inaccurate guidelines.
  • Include Income From Government or Employment Benefits: This includes disability, social security, workers compensation, and disability benefits.
  • Retirement or Annuity Income: Pension, regular 401K distributions, or annuity income is used to determine Florida Child Support.
  • Alimony as Income for Child Support: if one party is getting alimony, even if from a previous relationship, it is income for child support purposes.
  • “In kind” Re-reimbursed expenses: In-kind contributions can include non taxable housing pay for military service members or even the value of rent if living for free with family.
  • Imputing Income Appropriate? In certain cases, it is appropriate to impute an income number on a voluntarily unemployed or underemployed parent.
  • Subtracting Florida Recognized Deductions Health and Dental insurance: Who is paying? Is the payor getting a support credit?
  • Figure in Taxes and other Deductions: Florida has multiple deviations that are legally recognized in child support cases.
  • Account For Additional Expenses Check For Handling of Uncovered health Expenses: Children can have unexpected and costly uncovered reasonable health expenses. be sure to account for these.
  • Day Car and Private School: Schooling expenses can be more costly than child support obligations. It is imperative to define these before the end of your child support case.
    Adjustments and Deviations Is there substantial timesharing by the paying parent?: If the parent paying child support has more than 73 overnights, or 20% of overnights, he will get a sliding deduction on his obligation.
  • Deviations From the Guidelines: Special situations, like a special needs child, can necessitate a deviation from the guidelines.
  • Payment Considerations Retroactive Support: Florida law allows unpaid support to go back 2 years prior to filing.
  • Check the Method of Payment: Florida has multiple methods to assure prompt payment. It is imperative to consider in advance how the support shall be paid.
  • Life Insurance: It is often wise to secure life insurance in case a spouse dies while a child is a minor.
  • Additional Considerations: Termination and Age out For Multiple Children: In multiple children situations, does the child support number automatically change upon the older child turning 18?
    Dependency Exemption: This can be thousands of dollars for the spouses. Is this addressed?

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