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Child Support in Florida

In family law and government policy, child support is the ongoing practice for a periodic payment made directly or indirectly by an "obligor" to an "obligee" for the financial care and support of children of a relationship or marriage that has been terminated, or in some cases never existed. Oftentimes, but not always, the obligor is a non-custodial parent. Oftentimes, but not always, the obligee is a custodial parent, caregiver or guardian, or the government. Depending on the jurisdiction, a custodial parent may pay child support to a non-custodial parent. Typically there is no gender requirement to child support, for example, a father may pay a mother or a mother may pay a father.

Florida's child support laws provide for children to be financially supported by the noncustodial parent from the time of the parents' separation. Florida law lays out guidelines for how much a supporting parent must pay, although a judge may deviate from those amounts. Both the custodial and supporting parents' financial situations can be considered in determining support amounts.

Guideline Amounts

Florida guidelines for child support amounts are based on the number of children involved and the supporting parent's monthly net income. For instance, a parent with a monthly net income of $1,250 would pay $565 in child support for three children, according to the guidelines. Judges may veer from the child support guidelines by plus or minus five percent after considering factors such as the child's needs, age, standard of living and each parent's financial status. In order to deviate from the guideline by more than five percent, a judge must provide written findings outlining the reasons for his decision.

Income

The supporting parent's income is determined by adding his gross salary or wages, plus bonuses, commissions, tips, overtime and other special payments. Self-employment or business income, disability benefits, workers' compensation payments or settlements, unemployment payments, pensions, retirement or annuity payments, Social Security payments, spousal support, interest, dividends, rental income (minus expenses), and any other income from royalties, trusts, estates, properties or expense reimbursements also may be include

From that income, deductions may be made for tax withholding, federal insurance contributions, self-employment taxes, union dues, required retirement payments, health insurance premiums except those paid for the child, court-ordered child support for other children and spousal support for a previous marriage or the marriage at issue. The gross income minus the deductions determine the net income.

Child Support Orders

A child support order tells the parents what they must do to support their children. Enforcing child support orders means getting the parent to do what the order says.

The amount of child support is based on guidelines defined in Florida law. Child support guidelines are standards used to figure out the support needed for a child and the amount a parent has to pay. Guidelines help make sure support amounts are fair. Every state has guidelines, but they may be different in each state.

These guidelines are used the first time child support is ordered and every time the child support amount changes. They are also used to review the order to see if the support amount should be changed.

Child support guidelines consider:

The court or agency establishing support must use these guidelines to decide the amount of child support that will go in a Florida support order. In special circumstances, support amounts can be higher or lower than the guideline amounts. For example, a judge may consider a child's high medical expenses as a reason to change the support amount. In most cases, judges have to give written reasons why support amounts are different from guideline amounts.

Modification

A Florida court can review a child support order every three years. Modification is permitted only if there has been a significant change in circumstances and the requested change must be no less than $25 or 10 percent per month, whichever is higher. A court may modify the order if custody has changed, health insurance coverage has changed, either parent's income has increased or decreased significantly, or the child's expenses have suddenly increased.

Enforcement

If a parent does not pay child support as ordered, the Florida Department of Revenue has enforcement mechanisms in place. The department is permitted to arrange payroll deductions with the parent's employer any may also intercept tax refunds or state lottery winnings of more than $600. Those funds are then sent to the parent owed support. Liens can be place on property, cars and other vehicles, preventing the parent from profiting from a sale. Driver's licenses, recreational licenses (fishing, boating, hunting), business licenses and professional licenses (law, medical) can all be suspended until the debt is paid. If support continues to go unpaid, the department may work with the court to get a warrant for the parent's arrest. The parent can remain in jail until arrangements are made to become current with the support order.

Termination

Florida requires child support until the child is 18 years old and a high school gradate. If the child does not graduate, support is owed until age 19. Support may even be owed while the child attends college or more permanently if the child has special needs. Child support terminates early only if the child dies or becomes emancipated.