What Factors Are Used to Calculate Child Support?

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The financial support of children by their parents is a central issue in Florida family law.  For the  State of Florida, the principle behind child support consists of parents having a duty to provide support for their children.  This duty ensures their children’s financial needs are met, and also, ensures these financial needs do not become the responsibility of the State. In some cases, parents will duke it out over the child support guidelines calculations — some concerned that they might have to pay “too much;” some concerned they will receive “too little;” and many, concerned the other parent is misrepresenting facts to manipulate the child support calculations in their favor.

Basis for child support calculations in Florida.  The relevant law regarding child support and child support calculations is §61.30, Florida Statutes.  This statute establishes the guidelines on which child support is calculated.  The guidelines take into consideration various factors in determining what amount of support each parent will contribute given their circumstances.  These factors include the income of both parents; the number of children; the cost of health insurance for the children; the cost of day care for the children; and the number of overnights each parent has with the children.

Income Determination.  The main factor in calculating child support is the monthly gross income of both parties.  Gross income is income before taxes and other allowed deductions are subtracted. The statute gives 14 items that would be included in determining income.  The items that are frequently at issue are discussed further below:

  1. Salary or wages. Calculating income for a parent that works a straightforward W2 job is fairly uncomplicated. In instances where the parent works a job with varied hours, such as  nurses, firefighters, police officers, etc., it becomes less simple.  However, the proper method to calculate income in these instances is to annualize the parent’s income based on the year-to-date gross pay on their most recent paystub.
  2. Bonuses, commissions, allowances, overtime, tips, etc. The argument heard frequently about bonuses, commissions, overtime, etc. is that these things are “not guaranteed” so they should not be included when determining gross income. However, these things are specifically identified in the statute as being part of gross income.  Just as in determining salary with varied hours, bonuses, overtime, tips, etc. should be annualized based on the total year-to-date of these things on the parent’s most recent paystub.
  3. Business income from self-employment, partnership, close corporations, and independent contractors. Determining a parent’s gross income from business income is another area that frequently causes issues.  Business income is defined as the gross receipts of the business minus the ordinary and necessary expenses needed to generate the income.  Seems simple enough; however, some parents will purposely run their business in ways to give the appearance of having a low income.

Deductions.  Once the parent’s gross income is calculated, certain allowable deductions are then subtracted from it, resulting in the parent’s net income.  These allowable deductions include things such as federal, state, and local income tax; mandatory union dues; mandatory retirement; and health insurance costs for the parent and not including the children at issue.

Imputation of Income.  Routinely, one parent believes that in order to get out of paying child support, the other parent will simply quit their job . Or one parent does, in fact, quit their job, believing that they have outsmarted everyone by doing so and they will not have to pay child support.  This is absolutely not the case.  In these cases, the court can consider factors such as work history, education, qualifications, and the normal earning levels in the area to determine that parent’s potential and likely earnings.  Imputation of income can also be used in cases where a parent quits their job to work at a lower paying one or where they refuse to provide any financial information.  Unless a parent has been deemed 100% disabled, the position of the court is, at minimum, they could be employed earning the current minimum wage in Florida.

Number of Children and Amount of Time-Sharing.  The number of children that parents have together and subject to the child support the parents are attempting to establish is a factor to be considered in the calculation of child support.  As might be expected, the more children you have, the higher your child support would be.  Further, the amount of time-sharing each parent has with the children affects the child support calculation.  The child support figure is adjusted when the child spends a “substantial” amount of time with each parent.  It is important to note that a “substantial” amount of time means that a child spends at least 20% of overnights (73 overnights in a year) with each parent. Moreover, as indicated, it is the overnights that are  significant.  Thus, for example, it does not matter if your child spends 8 hours every Saturday with you, but at night sleeps at the other parent’s home. Those 8 hours or various other hours during the day would not be added up and counted as “your time.” In this example, Saturdays would be counted as the other parent’s overnight.

Medical Insurance and Childcare Costs.  The costs of medical insurance (including vision and dental insurance) for the child and costs for childcare that are necessary due to a parent working are added to the calculation of child support.  The parent who actually pays for the medical insurance or the childcare essentially receives a credit for these payments in the calculation and both parents then pay a percentage toward them based on their respective incomes.  As a sidenote, because childcare costs may change dramatically (for instance, when a child is in daycare and subsequently, enters kindergarten, no longer needing daycare), it is beneficial to leave childcare costs outside of the actual child support calculation and instead, the parents pay this expense separately on the same percentage basis of their respective incomes.

Deviations from the Child Support Calculations. Lastly, the court has the power to deviate from the child support calculations for the 11 reasons found in the statute.  This includes the catch-all, “any other adjustment that is needed to achieve an equitable result.”

Calculation of Child Support Obligation.  Once the parents’ net incomes are determined, these net incomes are added together and, along with the number of children, are used to determine the basic child support obligation by applying the guidelines schedule found in §61.30, Florida Statutes.  Adjustments are then made to the basic child support obligation by considering the amount of time-sharing, medical insurance and childcare costs, and any other appropriate deviations.

In summary, the factors used to calculate child support in Florida are the incomes of both parents, number of children, time-sharing, and other factors such as payment of medical insurance and childcare costs.  Establishing and calculating child support can be complicated; however, it is important to have an understanding of the basics of how child support is determined. It is always advisable to consult with an experienced family law attorney to ensure that your child support order is accurate, considers the specifics of your case, and protects the best interests of your child.  If you would like to discuss child support further, please click here to schedule a consultation.

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