Among the clients I serve are many who are grappling with child support in Florida. The situations my clients face vary from case to case – the non-custodial parent (when the child does not live primarily with this parent) might be seeking adjustments due to a decrease in income or the custodial parent might seek action on delinquent payments.

What is child support?

First, let’s review what child support is and isn’t. Child support is an amount allocated that one parent pays to the other parent to help support the child, to help any daily needs of the child, clothes, food, housing. The amount is intended just to help with support since there are no longer two incomes in the home.

Child support is not the same as alimony. While alimony is intended to sustain a spouse who cannot maintain his or her standard of living without the former spouse, child support is based on the best interests of the child—day-to-day necessities, health care and insurance, for example. Neither is dependent on the other.

Florida Child Support Guidelines set out in Florida law guide the amount that must be provided from one parent to the other in child support.  Money paid as support for children is meant to be used to provide for the children concerned. It is not up to the custodial parent to use it for his or her own purposes. This misunderstanding or misuse is where things can get muddied and potential disputes for an attorney’s attention might arise.

Calculating Child Support in Florida

The financial situation of both custodial and non-custodial parents and the proportion of time each spends with the child are the basis of calculating Florida child support payments.

The Florida child support law lays out the calculation structure for child support. Usually, parents with higher net incomes have greater support responsibilities. Florida has a child support guidelines worksheet or formula which calculates the amount of child support based on numbers you submit. The include the number of overnights with parent, the cost of insurance paid, any other deductibles for insurance that may be paid, and childcare.  It might seem simple, but it is highly advised to seek an experienced attorney’s assistance with this process.

In cases of joint custody/time-sharing these guidelines seek a fare distribution of support costs. The first starting point is to figure out the combined net income of both parents so it can be distributed properly. Combined income is the total net income of both parents. Once you add in expenses and the number of nights with the child along with the combined, State guidelines determine a fair sharing of expenses and one parent may be required to make child support payments.

Modifications to Child Support

Court approval is required when either parent paying child support seeks to modify the amount of support decreed. Here, too, the guidance of an experienced child support attorney is advised.

The process starts with notifying the court as to why the child support you’re paying currently needs to be changed.  It stands to reason that the request must be based on a serious need. For example, filing for modification because a parent doesn’t want to pay or feels it is unfair is not sufficient. There should be a significant reason such as a substantial change in net income or the balance of custody (number of nights with a child).

Child Support Payments

Payments for child support are not voluntary; they are mandatory and ordered by the courts. Payment can be made directly to the custodial parent in Florida, or an income deduction order from the court could arrange the payment directly to be deducted from one parent’s paycheck. The employer would process and deduct that amount from your paycheck and direct funds to the state child support office which would pay the custodial parent directly. The method of payment is agreed upon in the final divorce agreement.

What About Back Payments?

Keep in mind that state and local child support agencies can take delinquent child support cases to court if their previous attempts to collect back payments are not successful. If you decide to hire an attorney, it will be important to make sure you’re coordinating your efforts with the agency to avoid duplication of work or even conflicting decisions.

If you find that the local or state child support agency has not taken any action to collect your child support back payments, or if their actions are not successful, then it may be time to consult an attorney.

Support and Visitation

Don’t make the mistake of confusing child support and visitation rights. Non-payment of child support does not justify blocking visitation rights. If child support is not paid the visitation still must be protected.  Child support is intended for what the child needs for daily welfare, where visitation is to protect the bond between parent and child.

What next?

It is important to understand the nature of child support after a divorce. You may be looking at discontinuing your marriage partnership, but the parenting is for life. We are there to help you determine the best course of action for yourself and your children. We encourage you to schedule an appointment to discuss the details of your situation to determine your next steps.