In Florida, child support is calculated according to the Florida Child Support Guidelines. Essentially, any child support obligation is calculated by a computer program based on a few factors. It is important to understand that parents are not allowed to agree in an amount of child support that is not based on the guidelines.
The most important things you need to understand about child support are the factors used to make the calculation:
- Income of each parent
- Allowable deductions from income
- Number of nights the children will spend with each parent
- Number of children
Income of Parents
It is fairly simple to determine the income of a parent who works as an employee and is paid a salary or an hourly wage. The potential difficultly in determining income in these situations is when one parent thinks that the other parent is underemployed – working at a job below a parents experience or education level. For example, a doctor cannot use his or her lower income as a house painter when calculating child support.
Also, it is often difficult to determine a self employed parent’s income because there can be confusion between business expenses and personal expenses.
Child support is not based on gross income. Rather, it is based on net income – which is gross income minus the deductions from income allowed by in the child support statute. This amount is not necessarily your after tax income or your take home pay. The most common allowable deductions are:
- Local, state and federal income taxes
- Alimony in your case or in another case that you actually pay
- Child support in another case that has been court ordered and that you pay
- Union dues (if any)
- The cost of you own medical insurance
- Mandatory contributions to retirement plans
It is important to recognize what costs or expenses are not considered when calculating child support: mortgage/rent, car payments, food, tuition, clothes, gas, payment of debts, utilities, IRA or 401(k) contributions, or medical expenses.
Nights Children Spend with Each Parent
The Florida Statutes allow for the reduction of a child support obligation when the parent paying child support exercises a substantial amount of time sharing. “Substantial time sharing” is defined as 20% or more of the nights in a year.
Nights – or where your child sleeps – are what matter. For example, if you see you child every day of the year, but they always sleep at the home of the other parent, you do not qualify for this reduction.
The more nights you spend with your child, the greater the amount of the deduction you can expect when child support is calculated.
Lastly, a few important points about this reductions:
- Having your child for 50% of the nights in a year will not necessarily eliminate your child support obligation.
- Not having your child for the number of nights used in the child support calculation, is grounds for having your child support increased.
Number of Children
Obviously, you can expect to pay more child support for a greater number of children. Therefore, it is important to know when child support stops for a specific child.
Typically, the Florida Statutes require that you pay child support for a child until that child reaches the age of 18 AND has graduated from high school. You are only required to pay child support for a child over 18 if they are enrolled in high school and expect to graduate before turning 19. So, if you child expects to graduate high school when they are 19.5 years old, child support can end when that child is 18. However, there are some instances where the plain language of the child support statute has not been followed by the Florida Supreme Court.
Lastly, if you pay child support for more than one (1) child, your child support is not reduced by a specific percentage when a child reaches 18 and is out of high school. For example, suppose that you pay $800 per month in child support for two (2) children. When the oldest of your children reaches 18 and is out of high school, your child support is not automatically reduced to $400 per month. Any reduction is child support requires a new guidelines calculation and court approval. You are likely to get a reduction – just not an automatic 50%.