Child Support Guidelines in Florida

by Marilyn Lindblad

Child support guidelines help ensure that the child support payments Florida judges order in divorce cases are fair and consistent. The guidelines take the mother's income, father's income and needs of the child into consideration. Judges are not required to follow the guidelines to the dollar; they have discretion to make adjustments to child support orders as needed.

Gross Income

Florida law calculates income for the child support guidelines by first determining the gross income of each parent. A parent must count income from every source, including, for example, wages, tips, bonuses, unemployment, disability, Social Security, workers' compensation, spousal support and the like. If a parent is unemployed or underemployed, a judge may impute gross income to that parent based on U.S. census data that establishes the median income of a full-time worker. The practice of imputing income to an unemployed parent gives a judge the flexibility to follow the child support guidelines without penalizing a child whose parent tries to get out of paying support by being voluntary unemployed.

Net Income

The parents' total net income determines how much child support they owe their children. To calculate net income, the court subtracts allowable deductions from gross income. Allowable deductions include items such as local, state and federal taxes, the parent's health insurance costs, mandatory union dues and child support and health insurance costs that a parent pays for other children. A parent cannot make any deductions from gross income except those allowed by Florida law.

Child Support Calculation

The Florida child support guidelines allot an amount of money that a child needs each month based on the parents' total net income and on the number of children receiving support. The court then divides each parent's net monthly income by the parents' total net monthly income to establish each parent's percentage share of the child's financial support needs. The guidelines presume the noncustodial parent should pay his or her percentage share of the child's needs as support and that the court will award this amount.

Adjustments

The child support guidelines establish a presumptive amount of child support, but courts have discretion to adjust the guidelines to increase or decrease the amount of child support. In making this determination, the court considers factors such as extraordinary medical or educational expenses, independent income of the child, increased financial needs of older children and disabled children, the amount of time the child spends with each parent and so forth. If a judge orders child support in an amount that varies from the guideline amount by more than 5 percent, the judge must provide a written explanation for the variation.