Calculating child support in Florida: Gross-up or just gross?

In divorces where minor children are involved, child support is a key issue. Payment or receipt of child support can make a difference in the parties’ standard of living, which impacts the kind of lives the kids will have, as well.

Florida law is designed to see that a child gets the level of support their parents can afford in combination, even if the marital unit has been broken into two households. As much as possible, the child should not suffer because of a divorce (or when the parents never married). To do this, the legislature has established child support guidelines that calculate the amount of monthly child support presumed to be appropriate.

The guidelines include a table or grid that provide a standard child support amount after plugging in certain mathematically derived numbers.

Broadly, Florida law looks at certain factors (time child is with each parent, number of children, income levels, support requirements for child) and imposes a formula to determine the guideline child support payment. Adjustments to guideline amounts may be made for child care costs related to parental work, job searching or education related to enhancing employability as well as for health insurance and uncovered medical expenses.

Different formulas apply depending on whether the child spends less than 20% of overnights or at least 20% of overnights with the nonresidential parent.

The idea behind the two formulas is that if the nonresidential parent does have the child a significant amount of time, that parent probably shouldn’t have to pay as much to the residential parent because the nonresidential parent is supporting the child and incurring expenses by providing care during those overnights.

Child support formula when nonresidential parent has the child less than 20% of overnights

Florida statute says that the standard child support guideline amount (payment directed by the formula in the guidelines) is presumed to be the appropriate amount. The judge may vary this amount up or down five percent after considering “all relevant factors, including the needs of the child or children, age, station in life, standard of living, and the financial status and ability of each parent.”

If the judge feels the guideline amount would be “unjust or inappropriate,” they can only order an amount that differs more than five percent if they make written findings that explain their reasoning. The law provides “deviation factors” that would allow this such as extraordinary medical expenses, costs associated with a child’s disability and others.

Gross-up formula when noncustodial parent has the child 20% or more of overnights

When the child will spend a “substantial amount of time with each parent,” meaning at least 20% of overnights with the noncustodial parent, the statute sets out a different formula, sometimes called the gross-up or substantial-time approach, for establishing the minimum child support guideline amount.

The judge may deviate from this amount considering the impact of the deviation factors and the recipient’s low income and ability to provide “basic necessities” to the child as well as the chance that either parent will not exercise their time-sharing rights and whether multiple children have different visitation schedules.

This only introduces a complex area of Florida family law. An attorney can explain how it applies to a particular family.

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  • The Law Office of Daniel E. Forrest represents individuals in Fort Lauderdale in high-asset divorce matters. Daniel Forrest is board-certified family lawyer and mediator serving the South Florida area.
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