It seems child support statistics are few and far between, however in 2001 6.9 million custodial parents who were due child support payments as per prior agreements or awards were due an average of about $5,000 each. Only about 62 percent of those who are due child support actually receive that support, meaning nearly 40 percent of non-custodial parents failed to pay agreed-upon or court-ordered child support.
The poverty rate for custodial parents who actually received their child support payments was 14.6 percent. More than a third of custodial parents were forced to contact a state child support enforcement office to receive child support. In 2001, about five out of every 6 custodial parents were mothers, although in the years since, it is expected that number may have changed at least a bit, as more fathers became the custodial parent. Child support issues touch mothers, fathers, and, of course, the children.
Will My Florida Child Support Ever End?
Non-custodial parents in the state of Florida often have one question regarding their child support payments—when will they end? The assumption by most is that child support ends when the child turns 18, and, in many cases this is true. There are exceptions and even child support that does end when the child turns 18 may not do so automatically. So—the short answer to the question of when my Florida child support will end is:
- Florida child support most often ends when the child turns 18.
- Florida child support can continue until the child graduates from high school or turns 19.
- Florida child support could continue indefinitely for special needs children.
- Florida child support usually never extends through the child’s college years.
Termination Dates on Court Orders
Within the past few years a Florida statute was enacted which required all child support orders to contain an end date. This end date usually specifies that the child support will end on the child’s 18th birthday, or, when there are several children encompassed in one child support order, there will be a date listed when each child will turn 18. If there is an Income Withholding Order along with the child support order, it will also specify the date when child support will end for each child, and the changing amount which will be due as each child ages out.
Despite the requirement for an end date, many child support orders signed after October 2010 neglected to include a support termination date; those orders remain valid even though the statute was not correctly followed. Unfortunately, those who have no termination date in their child support order could face a major headache as they attempt to terminate the support. Whether this can be accomplished easily or whether it could take several appearances in court is dependent on several things, including:
- If your child support is paid directly to the custodial parent rather than routed through the State of Florida, you can consider yourself lucky. If you typically write a check and mail it to your children’s other parent, once your children reach the legal age for child support termination you can simply stop writing checks. You are not required to file court documents or reopen your child support case—just stop paying child support. Of course, this is dependent on whether there are any exceptions which would extend your child support obligations.
- If you pay your child support to the state, or your employer has been ordered to deduct child support from your paycheck and send to the state, you could have a tougher time ending the support, and should speak to a Florida family law attorney well ahead of the time your child will turn 18. Even if your child support order clearly states when your child support will end, if the FSDU (Florida State Disbursement Unit) is involved, you must have a judge’s order terminating your child support obligation. Failure to get that judge’s order could get you into serious hot water. Both the FSDU and the Florida Department of Revenue may help you, stand in your way, or completely ignore you as you attempt to end your child support payments. Like most state agencies, the bureaucracy wheels turn slowly, and not always in the right direction. Visiting a Florida Department of Revenue office can feel like an exercise in futility, which is an excellent reason to have an experienced attorney involved in the process.
For those paying child support who have a child support order dated prior to October 2010, it is likely it does not have an automatic termination provision in place. This means you absolutely must file documents with the court asking for your child support obligations to end. If you have multiple children, you will need to file these same documents each time a child turns 18.
Because a child support modification is retroactive to the time you filed your documents, it is important that you file several months ahead of the time your child will turn 18. Otherwise, you could file in July to terminate your child support in August, when your child turns 18, but a court order might not be entered until January. If you haven’t paid child support during that time you could find yourself in trouble with the state, and if you have, you could be stuck trying (probably unsuccessfully) to have the money refunded to you.
When Florida Child Support Does Not End When the Child Turns 18
Your Florida child support could potentially be extended under the statutes until your child reaches the age of 19—the maximum age for a parent to continue receiving child support barring special circumstances. An extension like this could occur when a child has not graduated from high school by the age of 18. In this case, the child support will be extended until the child graduates or turns 19, whichever comes first. Again, this comes with a caveat: If a child is obviously not going to graduate from high school prior to his or her 19th birthday, there is a provision which terminates support at the child’s 18th birthday. This is meant to encourage the custodial parent to keep their child on track for graduation at 18, or 19 at the latest.
Children in the state of Florida who have special needs and will never be able to support themselves as an adult, could potentially receive child support for life. The special needs situation must be noted in the final court order, or in a later child support modification. If neither of these has occurred, then when the child turns 18, child support ends and the case cannot be reopened. This means if you have a special needs child and by age 16 it is clear that child will never be able to financially support himself or herself, it is imperative that you petition the court for a child support modification which will extend child support for the life of the child. If you neglect to do this until after the child’s 18th birthday, you will find it is too late to make changes.
How is Florida Child Support Calculated?
While a child’s parents as well as the judge may have some wiggle room when deciding on a workable Parenting Plan and a custody decision, there is little leeway in Florida child support. While it is a little more complex than this, essentially the incomes of both parents are determined, then calculations of how many overnight visits the children will have with the non-custodial parent is added into the mix to arrive at a child support figure. “Income” can include any of the following:
- Employment salary and wages;
- Any bonuses earned from employment;
- Overtime pay and tips from employment;
- If you own a business, your receipts minus your business expenses will equal your business income;
- If you are self-employed or receive income from a partnership or corporation, then your income will be calculated;
- Disability benefits;
- Worker’s comp settlement awards or weekly benefits;
- Pension or retirement benefits;
- Social security benefits;
- Trust or estate income;
- Rental property income;
- Spousal support from a prior marriage (only if it is expected to continue), and
- Interest income or stock dividends.
“Income” may not include public assistance income, records of income more than five years old or anticipated income at levels not earned in the past unless the parent recently obtained a degree, certification or license which is likely to result in higher pay. Net income will be calculated by deducting certain expenses from the parent’s total income. Health insurance payments, tax payments, mandatory retirement payments, mandatory union dues, child support paid for children from a prior relationship and spousal support paid for either a prior spouse or the spouse from the marriage at hand are considered allowable deductions.
When the net income for both parents has been determined, these amounts will be added together. The Florida child support chart will then be used, taking into consideration the combined net income of the parents along with the number of children for which child support will be paid. The amount from the chart will be allocated between the parents, proportionate to their individual income.
When Can the Judge Deviate from the Florida Child Support Guidelines?
In most cases the amount reached through the combined income and number of children is the final amount, with judges being allowed to deviate by only 5 percent. In order for a judge to deviate from the guideline amount by more than 5 percent, one of the following must be true:
- A child of the marriage has a disability and special needs which were previously met through the family budget.
- One or more children have their own source of significant, independent income.
- One or both of the parents work is considered seasonal, meaning they have significant variations in their income and expenses throughout the year.
- One or more children have special medical, educational, dental or psychological needs which result in extraordinary expenses.
- There are older children who may have greater financial needs than younger children.
- A parent paying child support for children from a prior relationship will not have to pay more than 55 percent of his or her gross income for the prior child support added to the current child support.
- Either parent has significantly more or significantly less available assets than the other.
- The impact of taxes, particularly Earned Income Credit and Child and Dependent Care Credit on each parent.
- A child who spends a significant amount of time with the non-custodial parent, yet less than 20 percent of overnight visits could result in a reduction of child support obligation for the non-custodial parent.
How Do the 20 Percent Overnights Factor In?
In some cases, a parenting plan may contain significant time-sharing. If this time-sharing results in each parent having the children for 20 percent or more overnights each year, there will be additional calculations involved. Additional factors which will impact the final amount of child support are health insurance premiums, prescription drug costs, dental expenses and medical expenses which are not covered by health insurance and child care expenses.
What if Your Ex Simply Doesn’t Choose to Work?
Some spouses have been frustrated by an ex who attempts to dodge child support obligations by either quitting their current job, or working, but in a job which does not reflect their education, skills or experience. The state of Florida does not look kindly upon parents who attempt to evade the financial responsibilities related to their children. If the court determines a parent is chronically and voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court can impute the parent’s income based on occupational qualifications or past work history. In other words, a father with a Master’s degree in engineering who is working at the local Mini-Mart could be suspect, unless he has attempted to find employment related to his degree and was not able to do so.
If you have any questions regarding child support, or are wondering if your child support will end automatically when your child turns 18, it is a good idea to speak with an experienced Ayo and Iken Florida family law attorney as soon as possible.