A fresh look at Florida’s child support guidelines
When Florida parents divorce, child support is a key issue. Florida child support law is based on a set of guidelines that weigh important factors like income, health insurance and other medical costs, child care expenses, number of children, and time spent with each parent, applying a formula to determine the amount of child support.
Different formulas apply depending on whether the child spends more than 20 percent of his or her time with both parents or not.
Marital settlement agreements
The parties may settle child support by negotiated or mediated agreement, but the judge in the divorce must approve the agreed-upon child support level based on whether it is consistent with the guidelines and other applicable law.
The court will not allow parents to waive or underfund appropriate child support.
Child support standards
if the court determines child support, it will apply the guidelines to calculate the amount of the award. The judge may vary the guideline amount “plus or minus 5 percent … after considering all relevant factors, including”:
- Children’s needs, ages, “station in life” and living standard
- Each parent’s “financial status and ability”
The judge may vary the guideline amount more than 5 percent so long as the guideline amount would be “unjust or inappropriate.” He or she must include in the written order the reasons for this conclusion.
The child support statute lays out deviation factors the court can use to adjust the amount of the award or the parental shares. These factors:
- “Extraordinary” educational, dental, psychological or medical costs
- Child’s income, other than SSI
- Seasonal fluctuations of parental income or expenses
- Needs consistent with the child’s age
- Regular, necessary parental support
- “Special needs” like those of a disabled child
- Assets of each parent and child
- Certain tax matters
- Guideline amount that would make one parent pay over 55 percent of gross income
- An arrangement where the child spends “significant” time with one parent, but does not reach 20 percent of overnights, or a parent who is not involved in a child’s activities
- An adjustment to “achieve an equitable result”
When the supporting parent can afford it, Florida courts have allowed deviation because of optical, orthodontic or psychological expenses; private school tuition; and other costs. If a parent is wealthy, a Florida judge may deviate from the guideline child support amount to allow the child to share in the parent’s high-end lifestyle.
For example, the Detroit Free Press reported in January that an Orange County judge ordered baseball star Miguel Cabrera to pay $20,000 monthly in child support to the mother of two of his two children plus “health care, private tuition, day care, extra-curricular activities, vacations” plus life insurance policies for each child and annual passes to Florida theme parks.
Every situation is unique. A Florida family lawyer can answer questions about child support and what is likely to be relevant in a given circumstance.