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

Child support hearing document and pen

Under Florida law, parents have a legal obligation to support their children. When parents divorce, Florida child support guidelines are used to determine a fair payment amount. The Florida Department of Revenue oversees the Child Support Enforcement Program.

Florida child support usually continues until a child’s 18th birthday. Parents may continue support after that if the child hasn’t graduated high school or has a disability. Child support is for everything that involves the raising of a child.

Changes to Florida law have done away with old terms that made one parent feel inferior. Lawmakers want all parents to feel important in the lives of their children. Parental time-sharing has replaced non-custodial and custodial parents, sole custody and visitation. This new term means that both parents are responsible for the wellbeing of their child.

Child Support Is A Legal Right Of The Child

When in the middle of a heated child custody battle, remember to put the child first like the court’s will. Child support is mandatory in Florida. This means parents can’t waive their obligation to pay it. A parent’s financial support is a legal right of the child under Florida child support laws.

You can apply for child support services online through the Florida Department of Revenue (DOR). Your local child support office can help you in person or over the phone. You can call for an application to fill out and mail back to the DOR. A parent or caregiver can submit an application for a child who needs support. They can apply for owed support too. The DOR collects and disburses all child support in Florida.

Retroactive child support is when parents must pay support that is back due. This usually covers the time between the start of the divorce to the court issued support order. Past due support is when a parent fails to pay child support on time. Parents should obey the law and pay child support. If they don’t, the Department of Revenue steps in.

Late notices are sent to parents who owe child support by the DOR since they enforce Florida’s child support program. Income withholding notices are sent next to employers or other payers of income. Then child support payments will be withheld from income and sent directly to the DOR.

If these enforcements have no effect, a driver’s license suspension notice is sent. Included within is an invite to work with the DOR to get the child support paid. If needed, they can intercept Federal tax refund money. If all else fails, the DOR files legal action in circuit court to enforce the support order.

Paying Florida Child Support

Florida Child Support Payment Information

You can determine child support by following Florida guidelines. You’ll need to gather some information to get started, like the income of both the mother and father. Any deductions, exclusions, child care or health expenses should be specified. The number of overnights that a child spends with a parent should be taken into account as well.

Jot down some rough numbers and head over to our Florida Child Support Calculator to get an idea of child support amounts. Remember to keep in mind that your child support is not set in stone forever. It can be modified if there is a change in your work, health or family situation.

Determining Income

To calculate your child support payment amount, first determine your income. Income is any form of legal payment including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Bonuses, commissions, allowances, overtime, and tips
  • Business income from self-employment, partnerships and close corporations
  • Disability benefits, including VA disability
  • Dividends and interest
  • Independent contractor compensation
  • Payments from federal or local government
  • Pension, retirement and annuity payments
  • Reimbursed expenses or in-kind payments if reduces living expenses
  • Rental Income
  • Royalties, trusts, and estates
  • Social Security benefits
  • Spousal support
  • Unemployment compensation
  • Wages or salary
  • Workers’ compensation benefits and settlements

Florida resident explaining child support.

Deductions and Exclusions

There are deductions you can subtract from your gross income amount. The child support calculations can do this for you. Some things you can deduct are:

  • Paid court-ordered support for other children
  • Federal, local and state income taxes
  • Health insurance payments, excluding payments for coverage of the minor child
  • Mandatory union dues and retirement payments
  • Self-employment tax or federal insurance contributions
  • Paid spousal support from previous or current marriage

Determine net income by subtracting deductions and exclusions from your gross income. The resulting net income amount will be the number on which the child support is based.

Adjusting for Child Care and Health Insurance Expenses

Childcare and health insurance can be a part of the child support order. However, they are often separated because costs for these services vary monthly. It is easier for parents to pay their pro rata share of child care and health insurance expenses.

Adjusting the Number of Overnights

The child support formula takes into account the number of overnights a child spends with either parent. If a child is with one parent 100% of the time, then the other parent should pay the highest amount of support. If there is 50-50 parental time-sharing, then the main income earner may pay less child support. This is because they are already paying for reasonable expenses 50% of the time.

Paying Child Support

If you have an active support case with the Florida Child Support program, you can register online. This is known as Child Support eServices and is on the Florida Department of Revenue website. eServices allow you to access and manage your info anytime and anywhere. You can see actions taken and payments made on your case. With Florida Child Support eServices, you can even pay child support online. You can pay with a credit card or echeck and print payment histories.

If necessary, you can pay child support with cash through money transfer services like amscot.com or moneygram.com. Checks can be sent directly to the Florida Department of Revenue at:

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

On the Clerks of Court website, official records are shown if you have an account. They include things like payment history and recent payments.

 Clerks of Court Website

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

What Does Child Support Cover?

Child support covers a child’s basic need for food, shelter and clothing. It also covers things like education, sports, activities, travel and fun. Each child support order in Florida must have a provision for the child’s health insurance too.

The court will make sure a parent provides health insurance. They will ensure that it’s available and reasonable in cost. This expense is  factored into the child support obligation. The parent paying the health insurance will see a reduction in the amount of child support owed.

The court addresses non-covered medical, dental, vision and prescription medication expenses. Each parent is responsible for a specific percentage of the cost. This can be a 50-50 percentage, or it can be on a pro rata basis. This means each parent pays a percentage based on the combined income of the parties. Parents are required to pay for all non-covered medical expenses that are reasonable and necessary.

Usually, these types of uncovered expenses are not a part of the child support agreement. Like child care, uncovered expenses tend to change month-to-month. You can’t predict what they will be. A child may be healthy one month, and then end up in the emergency room the next month. In situations like these,  one parent will pay the initial bill. The other parent will reimburse them depending upon the percentage owed.

Child support agreements should detail when a parent will notify the other parent of a medical expense. You should always include a receipt so there are no challenges to the amount paid or owed. Establish a deadline for when the payee parent must pay their reasonable share of the uncovered expense. Agreeing upon and detailing the terms now will lessen future conflicts over out-of-pocket expenses.

Other common Florida child support questions revolve around the following:

LIFE INSURANCE

Courts can order life insurance if it’s necessary to protect an award of child support. The parent asking for insurance has to show the necessity for insurance, plus cost. A premium must be reasonable. The parent paying the life insurance must be able to afford it.

Provisions for insurance should state that the beneficiary designation is revocable. Premium payments need to be on time. The insurance company should inform the awardee if the premium is late. The insurance company will send a notice if an attempt to change the beneficiary is made.

Each year, the obligor provides proof that the policy is in full force and effect. They provide letters to the insurance company of the provisions and obligations as well. If the awardee must enforce the provisions, then the obligor is responsible for fees and costs.

PRIVATE SCHOOL

The court can order for child support to increase based upon funding needed for private school expenses. This may be difficult to achieve. The court must find that the expense is a part of the family’s normal standard of living. Attendance at private school must be in the child’s best interest. The court needs to make a written finding of fact. The courts would prefer to have the parents agree on private school.

INCOME TAX EXEMPTION FOR DEPENDENTS

The child support number guideline changes based on which parent claims certain exemptions with the IRS. The dependent care tax credit, earned income tax credit and the tax exemption for dependents are all factors. If you claim the child, then your net income will increase for the year since you’ll pay less taxes. The tax exemption is usually worth more to the parent who has it. The other parent can take comfort in knowing that their financial obligation will be reduced.

Be careful: the exemption based upon the income of the parties is being phased out. There are cases where a parent makes too much money to receive any value from the exemption. 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 is entitled to child support credits. The credits are based on how much money they paid before the court order went into effect. For example,  one parent paid $500 a month to the other for child support while they were separated. Then a child support order is issued. The paying parent can get credit for what was already paid when deciding on the retroactive support due.

Not all money paid to an estranged spouse will be allocated for child support. For instance, the court may conclude that those monies were to help keep up marital assets, like the house. The intent was not for child support. In this case, the court might not give credit. From the start, the purpose of temporary support should be agreed upon.

IMPUTING INCOME

Often, one party is not honest about their true income. They may be unemployed or under-employed on purpose. This is so they can receive a larger support amount or pay less in support. The court has the discretion to impute an income in these situations that is fair.

A PARTY THAT DOESN’T COOPERATE

Sometimes one parent doesn’t want to play along. They don’t provide financial documents to show their true income. Consider the parent who is a small business owner or an independent contractor. It’s not as simple as pulling a W2 to find wages or the fair income according to the statute. If a parent doesn’t provide the documents needed for the divorce attorney, they will ask the court to impute a wage. This will be based on the median income of full-time workers as derived from the U.S. Census Bureau. A new statute makes this approach possible.

AN UNEMPLOYED OR UNDEREMPLOYED PARENT

Income is imputed to an unemployed or under-employed parent when lack of work is on purpose. This wouldn’t happen if the parent is physically or mentally unable to work. There may also be situations that affects income over which the parent has no control. There has to be substantial, competent evidence that the parent is under-employed or unemployed. It must be proven that they are able to earn income.

When imputing income, the court sets forth facts concerning potential earning levels. They discover sources of imputed and actual income and adjustments to income. One thing the courts can’t do is impute income based on gifts. The exception is if the gift is regular and recurring. If the grandparents give a set amount of money to the parents on a regular basis, it is income.

HOW TO FIND INCOME TO IMPUTE

The first place to search is a parent’s recent work history. The court can 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 look at education and job skills, community earning levels and listen to expert testimony. This helps to establish earning levels for people in specific professions. The U.S. Census Bureau’s numbers can also help to find average income amounts.

WHEN A PARENT STAYS HOME WITH A CHILD

  1. The court will at least impute minimum wage for a parent who is unemployed but has the ability to work. The court can refuse to impute income if a parent needed to stay home with children to care for them. This argument is a strong one, especially if the children are young and not in school.

DEVIATING FROM THE CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES

In some cases, the court can deviate from the child support amount determined by the child support guidelines. This can happen if one party files a motion requesting it. There must be a good faith basis to do so. Cases like these address a child’s expensive medical, mental health or dental costs. If it is proven that the child’s health needs increase expenses, then the child support amount will increase.

NON-INVOLVEMENT OF A PARENT

Sometimes one of the parents stops seeing the child or is not often involved in their life. Lack of involvement on a regular basis can result in the court adjusting the child support award amount.

ANOTHER CHILD

A parent who has a child support obligation may have more children with another person in the future. In general, this isn’t something the courts will consider.

ENFORCING CHILD SUPPORT

If you are having a hard time collecting child support, you may need to contact a Family Law specialist. Before doing so, be sure to read: When Your Ex Won’t Pay Alimony or Child Support to learn more.

OUT-OF-STATE

If you live out-of-state, contact that state to see if you have an open case.  If you are a Florida resident but receive child support services from another state, contact that state as well. The Florida Department of Revenue can help you find out-of-state agencies.

CHECKLIST: EVERYTHING CONCERNING CHILD SUPPORT CASES IN FLORIDA

▢ Determining Income. Determine W2 employment. Bonuses, tips, and overtime included.

▢ Small Businesses Income. Watch for underreported taxable income.

▢ Income From Government or Employment Benefits. Include social security, workers compensation, and disability benefits.

▢ Retirement or Annuity Income. Pension, 401K payments or annuity income.

▢ Alimony. Alimony from a previous relationship is income.

▢ “In Kind” Reimbursed Expenses. Such as nontaxable housing pay for military service members. The value of rent if living for free with family.

▢ Imputing Correct Income. Impute income on an unemployed or underemployed parent.

▢ Subtracting Florida Recognized Deductions Health and Dental Insurance. Payer receives support credit.

▢ Figure in Taxes and Other Deductions According to Florida law

▢ Account for Other Expenses. Children can have unexpected and costly uncovered reasonable health expenses. Be sure to account for these and define how to handle.

▢ Day Care and Private School. Schooling expenses can be costly. Define these before the end of your child support case.

▢ Adjustments and Deviations. Consider parental time-sharing. If the parent paying child support has more than 20% of overnights, a sliding deduction occurs.

▢ Deviations From the Guidelines. Special situations, like a special needs child.

▢ Retroactive Support. Florida law allows unpaid support to go back 2 years prior to filing.

▢ Check Method of Payment. Florida has multiple methods to ensure prompt payment. Consider in advance how to support is paid.

▢ Life Insurance. It is wise to secure life insurance in case a spouse dies while a child is a minor.

▢ Termination and aging out for children. In multiple children situations, does the child support number change upon the older child turning 18?

▢ Dependency Exemption. Can be thousands of dollars for the spouses. Be sure to address.

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