2018 FLORIDA CHILD SUPPORT: WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW CAN HURT YOU
In Florida, child support is calculated by the court using a mathematical formula. This formula is found in Florida Statutes Section 61.30, known as the Florida Child Support Guidelines. Below are three common misconceptions about child support in Florida.
1. CHILD SUPPORT IS NOT BASED ON YOUR TAKE-HOME PAY
The Florida child support formula begins with the income of each parent and applies certain deductions. What many people do not realize is that income for child support is not the same as the income on your paystub. Your net income for child support purposes is almost always greater than your take-home pay. Why? Because many of the deductions taken from your paycheck are not deductions that can be counted for child support. To calculate child support, the Court begins with your gross pay. Then the Court deducts a handful of allowable expenses such as your mandatory taxes. Many of the other deductions taken from your paycheck by your employer, such as voluntary contributions to a retirement account, cannot be deducted. This means the Court will count that money as part of your income, even if you never receive it.
2. CHILD SUPPORT DOES NOT COVER ACTUAL EXPENSES FOR YOUR CHILD
The Florida child support formula is based on the average costs of raising a child in 1972-1973. In addition, the guidelines do not account for the age of the child. Thus, guideline child support is the same for an infant who requires expensive diapers and formula and a 16 year old who works after school. For example, the guideline amount for a single child in a family earning $4,000 per month ($48,000 per year gross) is $828 per month, regardless of the child’s age. Most families find that the amount of child support under the Florida guidelines is grossly inadequate to cover the child’s actual expenses.
3. LESS TIME WITH DAD = LESS CHILD SUPPORT FOR MOM
The Florida child support formula provides for adjustments if the parents share custody of a child. In Florida, the way that the Court determines if there is shared custody is by counting the number of “overnights” that a child spends with each parent. If the child spends 73 or more overnights with one parent, the Court considers this “substantial” time sharing and adjusts the child support payment. If the parents share custody equally, this is known as 50/50 custody or time sharing. The child support owed between the parents is generally minimized when they have 50/50 time sharing. The result of this formula is that many parents who may have taken very little responsibility for child care when the parents were together will be motivated to get a substantial amount of time sharing after the break-up. For some parents, their request for substantial time sharing is sincere. They truly want to have a substantial amount of responsibility for caregiving even if they did not participate much before. For others, the demand for shared custody is a cynical attempt to minimize their child support payment. They do not really want to care for their kids and they often do not follow through with the caregiving they demand.
And between these two extremes there is a spectrum.
The counting of “overnights” creates a challenge for Florida parents. Some parents who demand substantial time sharing aren’t able to provide necessary overnight care because of their work schedule, but they still demand that their child stay overnight to get credit under the child support formula. They may return the child to the other parent at dawn just to claim the overnight credit. This can disrupt the child’s sleep schedule and result in a very cranky child being returned to the other parent who then has to care for that unhappy child for the rest of the day. If the child is again returned to parent 1 to sleep over again that night, the child may not sleep well and the problem is compounded when he is woken again at dawn.
The overnight time sharing formula in Florida creates numerous problems in family law cases. There is a great deal of resentment and fear when a secondary caregiver suddenly demands a significant amount of time with a child he or she barely played with previously. The primary caregiver worries that the other parent will not know how to care for the child, stimulate the child and ensure the safety of the child. The secondary parent may feel they were unfairly excluded by the other parent from playing a larger caregiving role. And worst of all, the child’s interests can be lost in the battle between the parents.
Lawyers can play a significant role in escalating these conflicts or reducing them. If you want your child’s best interests to remain at the forefront of your Florida family law case, choose your lawyer with this in mind.