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How Courts Set Child Support Payments

Becoming a parent is usually the one the happiest moments in a person’s life and is celebrated by friends and family as a major life-changing milestone. In addition to the congratulations, there is a moment, when the name of each parent is entered on the birth certificate, that the law recognizes this new status and imposes a large set of legal rights and obligations for this new child that will last until the age of 18. One of these obligations is the requirement that a parent provide financial support for a child as long as the child is a minor, and this responsibility does not disappear if the parents decide to separate or divorce. Family law governs child support, and this obligation follows a parent regardless of location and level of involvement in a child’s life. Actor Charlie Sheen is experiencing the continuing nature of child support as he seeks to lower his monthly payment for two children produced with one of his former spouses. He is citing a substantial change in income as the basis for the request, which is a legitimate reason for a court to modify the child support payment, but it is first necessary to determine how courts initially establish this amount. That topic, using Florida law, will be explored further below.

Who Pays and What Child Support Covers

Courts have the authority to order one or both parents to pay child support to each other, or to a third party if the child is in the care of another person. Child support is meant to cover the necessities of any child – food, shelter, and clothing – but also includes additional amounts to cover health insurance, education, and child care in most circumstances. Every child support order includes a provision related to health insurance, and typically, the parent responsible for paying child support must also provide health insurance coverage. The health insurance requirement is based on the assumption that the insurance premiums are reasonable and the policy covers health facilities that are accessible to the child. If the cost of health insurance is more than five percent of a parent’s gross income, it is considered unreasonable, and parent will not be required to add the child to his/her policy. In these cases, the non-custodial parent usually reimburses the custodial parent the cost of adding the child to health insurance. Accessibility assumes there are doctors in the county where the child lives, or the custodial parent is willing to travel further to obtain medical treatment.

How Courts Determine the Amount

Florida law provides guidelines to courts to help them set a child support amount. The allotted amount is based on the combined net monthly incomes of both parents and the number of shared minor children. The court has the ability to deviate from the guidelines by five percent in either direction after considering factors like the age of the child, standard of living, and the financial resources of each parent. Any deviation above five percent must be predicated upon a finding that not doing so would be unjust or inappropriate.

A person’s net monthly income is derived from a person’s gross income minus allowed deductions. Gross income includes any of the following:

  • salary or wages;
  • commissions, bonuses, tips, or overtime;
  • disability benefits;
  • unemployment benefits;
  • Social Security payments; or
  • rental income.

Permitted deductions include:

  • federal, state, and local tax deductions;
  • mandatory union dues;
  • mandatory retirement payments;
  • court-ordered support for other children; and
  • health insurance payments, minus the premiums for the minor child.

It is worth noting that courts will impute, or attribute, income to parents who voluntarily become under- or unemployed. Thus, deciding to quit your job or take a pay cut will not reduce your monthly payment.

Talk to a Family Lawyer

Child support is an essential component of a single parent’s ability to provide for his/her child, so it is important the court gets the monthly payment amount right the first time around. The Fort Lauderdale law firm of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. understands the necessity of child support, and will work to make sure a parent only pays what is reasonably affordable or what is needed to raise the child responsibly. Contact us to schedule a free consultation.

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