Anytime a Florida family law case involves children, the issue of child support will come up. Florida law operates under the theory that every child has the right to be financially supported by both parents, whenever possible. Often there is confusion regarding the Florida support guidelines, financial affidavits and income withholding orders. Florida child support is based on each parent’s income, the number of overnight visits the children have with the non-custodial parent, daycare amounts and the health insurance payments for the children. Many parents have questions regarding child support after the age of eighteen in the state of Florida.
Does Your Child Support Order Contain an End Date?
The state of Florida enacted a statute that required every child support order to contain an end date for the child support—specifically that the child support will end on the child’s 18th birthday. If there are multiple children included in the child support order, there will be multiple end dates, as each child reaches the age of 18. Normally, an Income Withholding Order will accompany the child support orders, and this Income Withholding Order is also required to have end dates.
Florida child support orders which were signed prior to October 2010, may not have end dates listed. Further, many judges continue to sign orders without these end dates, and, despite the Florida child support statute requirements, these orders are still valid. The current requirement to incorporate an end date for child support was meant to eliminate the necessity of returning to court to obtain an order which terminates child support.
Ending Child Support at 18 When You Pay Directly to the Other Parent
If you currently make your child support payments directly to the other parent rather than to the state of Florida, it will be easier to end the support when a child turns 18. That is, if your child support order requires direct payment and your child reaches the legal termination age for child support, you will simply stop writing the monthly check. This is assuming there are no exceptions in place which would extend your child support obligation past the child’s 18th birthday.
If no exceptions exist, and you pay your child support directly to the other parent, you have no obligation to reopen the support case or file documents with the court, you will simply stop paying. If, however, you pay your child support directly to the state of Florida—or your employer deducts child support from your regular paycheck, you will likely require a Florida family law attorney to help you get an order from the judge which terminates your child support. Even if your Income Withholding Order and Child Support Order clearly has an end date, you are still required to obtain an order which terminates the support. If you fail to file the proper paperwork, you could be accused of failure to pay your child support.
What if Your Child Will Not Graduate by the Age of 18?
The first exception you may encounter is that Florida statutes contain a provision that will extend child support until your child reaches the age of 19, in the event your child has not graduated from high school by his or her 18th birthday. In this event, child support will continue until the child graduates—with a maximum age for graduation of 19. Therefore, if a child graduates after the age of 18, but before the age of 19, the child support will terminate the day the child graduates—with one exception. Florida child support laws address the fact that some children are absolutely not on track to graduate from high school before they turn 19. In this case, child support terminates on that child’s 18th birthday. This provision is intended to encourage parents to work to ensure their child graduates on time.
Additional Exceptions to the Child Support Ending at 18
The next exception under Florida law is the child who has special needs, and will never become a self-supporting adult. In this case, child support could last for the life of the child. In most cases, this will be acknowledged in the original child support court order. If the issue was not addressed, or if the child suffered an accident that would prohibit him or her from ever becoming a self-supporting adult after the court order, then a modification is necessary. If the child reaches the age of 18, and child support has ended without such a modification, the case to continue child support cannot be reopened. The issue may come down to whether the child’s physical or mental incapacity is severe enough to result in “dependency.” The incapacity—whatever it might be—must have rendered the child dependent prior to his or her arriving at the age of majority (18). And a court must have recognized the incapacity before that time.
Circumstances Under Which Child Support Could End Before the Child is 18
There are certain circumstances under which child support could effectively end prior to the minor child’s 18th birthday. These circumstances could include the child marrying prior to the age of 18, or entering the military prior to the age of 18. The state of Florida would assume in such cases, the child is no longer being supported by his or her parents, therefore child support would end on the date of the event (marriage or entering the military).
If a minor child applied for emancipation, leaving the parent’s home prior to his or her 18th birthday, Florida law will assume the child is supporting herself or himself, therefore child support will terminate. If there are changes in custody—suppose the noncustodial parent becomes the primary custodial parent—then a new child support worksheet will be filed with the court in order to determine how child support will change.
How to Terminate Florida Child Support after Age 18
If your particular situation does not allow you to simply stop paying child support when your child reaches the age of 18, you must file a Supplemental Petition to Modify or Terminate Child Support in the same court your original child support order was entered, using your original case number. Depending on your jurisdiction, this process can be fairly complex—as complex as the process for your original divorce/child support case, requiring just as many steps. Once your Petition is filed, it must be served on the other parent, and a hearing will be scheduled.
It is particularly important when you are seeking to modify or terminate child support, the modification or termination is retroactive to the date you file your documents. You are obligated to continue to pay child support until such time as a new court order is entered. As an example, you could file to terminate your child support in April, yet not see a court order until six months later. During this time you have paid child support and will have to seek a refund from your child’s other parent. While child support will generally not continue past the child’s eighteenth birthday—barring any of the circumstances listed above—you may wonder just how child support is calculated in the first place.
How Income for Each Parent is Calculated
The income of each parent will include the following:
- Each parent’s earned wages and salaries;
- Business income;
- Disability benefits;
- Self-employment income;
- Partnership or corporation income;
- Income received from worker’s comp;
- Unemployment income;
- Social security benefits income;
- Income derived from retirement, pension or annuity accounts;
- Rental property income;
- Spousal support received from a prior marriage;
- Income received from interest, and
- Income received from royalties, estates or trusts.
Income does not include public assistance amounts, any records of income more than five years old, or anticipated income at a level not earned in the past unless a parent has recently obtained a certification, degree or license which is expected to result in a significant income boost.
Deducting Allowable Expenses from Gross Income
Once the gross income is figured, all allowable expenses will be deducted. Allowable expenses include child support paid for other children, spousal support paid in a prior marriage or for the current marriage, all tax deductions, mandatory retirement payments, mandatory union dues, and health insurance premiums except those paid for qualifying children. When the net income for both parents is calculated, they will be added together for a combined net income, then child support is determined by using the Florida child support chart. The chart will show a specific amount that will be allocated between the parents based on each parent’s income.
Deviations from Florida Child Support Guidelines
The court is only allowed to deviate from the amount shown on the chart by 5 percent unless there is justification for a significantly larger deviation. Some of the instances in which deviations of this sort are allowed include:
- Medical, psychological, educational or dental expenses which are extraordinary in nature;
- Independent income which comes to a child or children;
- Seasonal variations in income or expenses by either or both parents;
- Greater financial needs of older children;
- Special financial needs of a disabled child;
- The total available assets for each parent;
- The impact on each parent of the IRS Earned Income Credit and Child and Dependent Care Credit;
- Child support is currently being paid for children of a prior marriage by either parent (total amount for all child support amounts cannot exceed 55 percent of the parent’s gross income), and
- Any other adjustments considered necessary by the court in order to achieve an equitable child support amount.
How Parenting Time Affects Each Parent’s Child Support Obligations
Extra calculations are required when the parenting plan contains significant time-sharing, resulting in each parent having the child or children for 20 percent or more overnights per year. The final calculation of child support will also consider medical, dental and prescription costs not covered by health insurance as well as the cost of monthly child care when applicable.
What About Voluntary Underemployment or Unemployment?
Unfortunately, some parents attempt to dodge their child support obligations by failing to seek employment they are well-qualified for, or even quitting a job they currently hold. Some parents will take a lower-paying position, with the idea the court will set their child support payments much lower, then they will later return to their “normal” job. Florida courts have taken a strong position on parental underemployment and unemployment. The court can choose to calculate a parent’s income on recent work history or occupational qualifications.
In other words, a parent with a master’s degree in education who is working for minimum wage at a fast food joint, (unless that parent can clearly show they have tried, unsuccessfully, to find employment commensurate with their education) may find his or her income imputed at a much higher level than they are actually making. Parents who choose not to participate in a child support hearing, or those who fail to provide income information, could find themselves with a court order to pay much more child support than they might have if they had fully participated. The Florida Department of Revenue will aggressively pursue this child support on behalf of the children.
Modifications to Your Florida Child Support
Modifications, and even terminations to Florida child support can be made under a variety of circumstances, other than the child turning 18. Any time there is a substantial change in circumstances, one parent may file for a modification of the current child support. The substantial change is most often a change in income for the paying parent. The change could also be alterations in the number of overnights exercised by either parent. The Florida state statutes allow a modification petition to be filed anytime the petition would result in a change in support of at least 15 percent or $50, whichever is greater.
Sometimes, changes in child-related expenses can justify a change in child support. These changes could be adding the cost of daycare, an end of court-ordered alimony on the part of the paying parent, a drastic change in payroll taxes, or a significant change in either the health insurance premiums for the child or for a parent. The loss of a job by the paying parent could also result in a legitimate modification request. If you have further questions regarding ending child support at 18 or making modifications to child support, talk to your Ayo and Iken Florida family law attorney.