This Florida Child Support Law Overview explains what you need to know about what will happen with child support in your Florida divorce or paternity matter. Florida Child Custody Law is covered separately in our Florida Child Custody Law Overview.
Florida Child Support Law is usually a fairly straightforward matter compared to the other legal issues that come up in a divorce lawsuit. In Florida, and in many other jurisdictions, child support is based on a formula that is primarily controlled by: (1) each parent’s income from all sources, including employment, alimony received, and passive income from investments; (2) the number of nights each parent spends with the children a year; and (3) a few expenses related to the children, such as health insurance and reasonable expenses for childcare. With very few exceptions that almost never apply, child support is determined by this child support formula and the number “is what it is” and cannot be avoided.
Theoretically speaking, the formula usually makes sense. Through the formula the very basic costs of caring for children (as determined by the infinite wisdom of your government) is spread between both parents based on their relative incomes, how much time they spend with the kids, and who pays how much for the major expenses of insurance and childcare. In the perfect (seemingly imaginary) world where each parent’s income, time with the children, and out of pocket payments for children’s expenses are equal, then there will not be child support.
As with alimony, child support is based on the income that a person should be making after using their best efforts to find the highest paying employment available. This means that you cannot “beat the system” by refusing to work, solely for the purpose of paying less (or receiving more) in child support. Also, similar to with alimony, if you are a business owner or are self-employed, you can count on your spouse’s divorce lawyer doing whatever they can to show that your income, for purposes of calculating child support, should be higher than your reported taxable income, by re-characterizing certain business expenses that are really personal benefits as income to you.
In Florida, there is a doctrine dealing with “good fortune child support” that was derived in part from the case of a professional athlete who fathered a child out of wedlock. In effect, if your income is high enough that the child support formula produces a child support payment higher than your children’s needs (which can be hard to prove), the court can limit child support to your children’s needs, or implement other measures, such as appointing a professional financial guardian, to make sure that your children (and not your spouse) realize the benefits of the child support payments.
Typically, this will only be applicable if your earnings are several million dollars a year and your spouse has minimal income, including investment income, after leaving the divorce. This is rarely the case because in this factual scenario, your spouse would probably have income, at least partially consisting of alimony, which is part of the child support calculation.
Also, in some instances, under Florida Child Support Law it is possible that a parent can be ordered to pay additional expenses of the children over and above the child support amount. These expenses can include private school, camps, and other expenses that add up quickly. However, a parent can only be ordered to pay these expenses in addition to child support, if there is a long track record of doing so during the marriage, the parent has the financial ability to continue paying the expenses after the divorce, and the best interests of the children require the expenses to be paid.
In case you were wondering,with Florida Child Support Law, child support is a “right of the child” and cannot be avoided, meaning that under the law, parents cannot simply agree there will be no child support, unless the facts of their situation yield a child support calculation of zero using the applicable child support formula.
In my experience, some judges here in Florida will approve agreements stating no child support will be paid by either parent, if the child support formula yields a result close to zero and it is obvious that one parent is not being intimidated into not having enough money to take care of the children, and has enough money to avoid using public benefits as a result.
Under Florida Child Support Law, child support is payable until the child is 18 years old, or until they graduate high school, if they are still in school on their 18th birthday. A few jurisdictions have laws requiring child support into adulthood, but that is an exception and not the norm. The practical meaning of this is that you are legally required to pay for your child until they reach high school graduation age, and cannot be legally obligated under most laws to pay for their college education.
Typically, child support can be changed whenever there is a significant change in the income of the person paying or receiving child support, as long as it does not appear the change in income comes from a deliberate strategy to avoid child support. Also, as with alimony, non-payment of child support without a valid excuse can cause serious problems, including cancellation of driver’s licenses and passports, and even incarceration.