Child Custody and Support Help
By Orlando Child Custody and Support Attorney Eduardo J. Mejias
Practicing Exclusively Family Law Since 2005
Questions About Child Custody And Support
Next to "How much will this divorce cost me?", Orlando clients most frequently ask me these questions as a child support lawyer: How is it established? For how long can I collect it? How is it enforced? These are the answers that will help you understand the outlines of the choices that the law offers you.
The Payment And Time Sharing
Chapter 61.30, Florida Statutes, contains what are known as Florida's Child Support Guidelines. With rare exceptions, Florida courts adhere to these guidelines when determining the payments for the time sharing of a child's custody. This is whether it involves: (a) a dissolution of marriage (divorce), (b) a paternity action, or (c) a modification of a final judgment. Essentially, the guidelines apply three major factors to determining the amount of the child support payments:
- the number of minor children,
- the net monthly income of each parent and
- the percentage of overnights each parent will spend with their children (child custody) as set by the time sharing agreement.
Naturally, the more children that are eligible for the support, and the higher the net monthly income that the obligor (the paying parent) earns, the higher his or her monthly Florida support payment will be. However, beginning at 20%, the greater the percentage of overnights (not the number of hours) that the paying parent spends with the children, the greater the credit he or she will receive, thus lowering the monthly payment.
Florida laws consider two other factors that determine what the final child support payment will be: (a) the parent who pays for the children's health insurance will either receive a proportionally higher payment or receive a credit towards his or her obligation and (b) parents who pay for the children's day care expenses (if there are any) receive the same considerations.
Occasionally, upon the family lawyer filing a motion on behalf of one of the parents, courts will deviate slightly upward from the support payments dictated by the guidelines. However, the burden of proof rests with the parent filing the motion for an increase in the support. Even if the motion is successful, the court can only deviate up to 5% upward from what the guidelines dictate.
As a Florida child support attorney since 2005 (and since 2001 in Orlando), I have yet to witness a court-ordered deviation in a case that I worked on. Basically, you can be fairly confident that the final child payment ordered by the court will equal the guidelines amount. With that said, the parents may agree to payments that deviates somewhat from the guidelines amount. However, parents cannot agree to waive all the payments from the paying parent for supporting the children.
The Duration Of The Support
In a divorce or a paternity case, the recipient can seek retroactive child support payments from the date the children began living primarily with him or her. However, under no circumstances can a parent collect support going back more than two years from the date of filing the petition. Of course, if the paying parent has been voluntarily making payments explicitly for the purpose of supporting the children (not counting gifts), he or she will receive credits for those.
As a family law attorney, I advise all of my clients whose children do not primarily live with them to begin making reasonable payments to the custodial parent for the support of the children as soon as possible.
To avoid any ambiguity, I also instruct these clients to pay with checks or money orders that expressly indicate "child support" on the face of the document. I've seen countless parents lose the argument that they bought Junior a bike or a video game system, and thus, should be "cut a break" when paying the retroactive support payment. At AAA Family Law we don't just go to court to represent you. We make sure to prepare you for what you need to do to get a favorable outcome.
What happens if a court determines that retroactive payments (arrearages) are due? Generally, courts will add a 20% surcharge to the obligor's present payment obligation. The paying parent will have to pay this surcharge until the arrearages are paid off. However, if a court finds that the paying parent truly lacks the present ability to pay the 20% surcharge, it has the discretion to charge a lower percentage.
Finally, Florida courts are only empowered to order support for a child until he or she turns eighteen, or graduates from high school after turning eighteen, but before the age of nineteen. Florida courts cannot force the extension of a parent's support obligation into the child's college years, as is done in other states. However, both parents can agree to extend it beyond the age of eighteen and the child's high school graduation date.
How It Is Enforced
In order to enforce child support payments, the parent that does not receive a court-ordered payments on a timely basis may file a motion for contempt against the obliging parent. When a court hears this motion, it must determine:
- whether the paying parent actually failed to timely pay the full amount,
- if so, whether the paying parent possessed the ability to pay the court-ordered payment at that time,
- if the paying parent did indeed have the ability to pay, what contempt sanctions should be assessed.
Possible sanctions range from establishing a payment plan for the child support that is in arrears and awarding the receiving parent his or her attorney's fees, to the actual incarceration of the parent that was supposed to make the payments.
However, a court can only incarcerate the paying parent if he or she is able to pay what is referred to as the "purge" amount, and the that parent still does not pay it. The purge is usually a percentage of the total amount in arrears. No court will imprison a truly destitute parent for not making child support payments. Even if the paying parent is imprisoned, he or she must be released the instant the purge is paid, or if the purge is never paid, 180 days after the date of imprisonment.
What AAA Family Law Can Do For You
In the Orlando metro area, if you need a child custody and support attorney, call AAA Family Law at (407) 260-6001 to schedule a free thirty-minute initial consultation. There is an hourly charge for additional consultation time. See Family Lawyer Retainer Fees. We can represent you in child custody and support cases from the initial consultation through a trial and, if needed, through an appeal to the appropriate Florida District Court of Appeals.
At the free consultation we will listen to your situation, give you an objective and realistic assessment of what we can do for you, and show you a clear legal strategy designed to achieve your objectives. We will also quote you a fixed attorney retainer fee before you pay or sign any contracts.
Our attorney retainer fees for cases involving only child support range from $1,000 to $1,5000, depending on the level of complexity of the case.
For additional information on our attorney retainer fees please click on Attorney Fees.
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