A Summary of the Most Litigated Child Support Issues
1. Determining Incomes
One of the most important issues to determine when calculating child support is the parent’s incomes. Aside from the number of overnights that each parent receives, the income levels of the parents will be the most determinative factor in calculating child support. This may seem fairly straightforward, and generally it can be, particularly where a parent is gainfully employed by a company that pays them regular wages, however, this becomes much more complicated if a parent is self-employed or works under the table without receiving regular paychecks. In order to properly determine a parent’s income it may become necessary to look at how much they have historically made over the course of their adulthood and/or career, or even hire a vocational expert to try and prove to the Court what that parent’s true income should be established at. Since income levels are such an important factor in determining child support, it’s imperative to have an accurate assessment of the income levels of both parents.
2. Retroactive Support
Many times, when a couple splits up, one parent will either remain in the home with the children, or they will leave the home and take the children with them. In either scenario, once the parents stop living together, the clock for retroactive, or past due, child support can begin ticking, and the more time that expires without the payment of formal child support, the higher the retroactive support amounts may climb. Since a child is owed a duty of support, the non-residential parent must try to protect themselves against a large monetary judgment for retroactive support by either filing a family law case to determine timesharing and child support quickly after separation, or by ensuring, and documenting, that child support continues to be paid past the date of the parties’ separation. In those situations, paying child support with a money order that clearly delineates that the payments are being made as and for child support would be an ideal way to document paid child support.
3. Fight over Overnights
As referenced above, another key determinative factor in establishing a child support amount is the number of overnights that each parent receives with the children. In general terms, the more overnights a non-residential parent, or a parent that does not have the majority of the yearly overnights, has with their children, the less they would end up paying in child support. This is certainly not a secret amongst family law attorneys and litigants, so many times the number of overnights a parent has becomes quite important to the overall case. While some of the parents who are likely to pay child support may argue for an equal timesharing schedule, many times just to reduce their support obligations, it becomes important to ensure that each parent be able to articulate to the Court why such a schedule would be consistent with the children’s best interests. At the end of the day, the children’s best interests will be the primary consideration for the Court in determining a timesharing schedule.
As is generally the case in family law, nothing is ever set in stone, and child support is no exception. Florida law does allow for the modification of child support amounts, either up or down, based on a substantial, unanticipated, long-term change of circumstances. In most cases this will be based on either a substantial reduction, or increase, in either parent’s income. In many of the cases I see, a parent is seeking to reduce their child support obligations based on a change or elimination of employment, or based on health considerations that may prevent a parent from working as they have in the past. In other cases, a parent receiving child support may request an increase in child support if the other parent’s income has substantially increased, if the receiving parent’s income has been decreased or eliminated, or if any of the children’s needs have changed due to health or medical issues.
5. Contempt / Enforcement
Being granted a child support order in your favor can sometimes only be half of the battle, as collecting the child support may in fact be the hardest part for some parents. If a parent does not have the type of job that would allow for an income withholding order, such that the child support would be automatically taken from the paying parent’s paycheck by their employer, then you become reliant on the other party’s direct compliance with the child support order. If a parent is not paying child support in compliance with the child support order, then it may be necessary to file a motion for contempt and enforcement, asking the Court to hold the non-paying party responsible for the non-payment of child support. Some of the tools, or sanctions, the Court has to force compliance with a child support order include ordering back-pay, with interest, punitive and compensatory fines, suspension of driving privileges, garnishment of tax returns and bank accounts, awards of attorney’s fees and costs, and even incarceration for a non-paying parent.
If you have questions about your child support or your domestic relations case it’s important to speak with an experienced family law attorney to discuss your specific case and circumstances. Attorney Russell J. Frank is a partner at CPLS, P.A. and focuses his practice areas on family and marital law. Contact Attorney Frank today at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss any family or marital legal issues you may be experiencing.