Prices are on the rise and this has made it difficult for many families. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index increased 8.5 percent for the year ended March 2022. This followed a 7.9 percent increase from February 2021 to February 2022. The 8.5 percent increase in March 2022 was the largest 12-month increase since December 1981.
What could this mean for struggling parents? Could you potentially request a child support modification based on inflation? If you are the paying parent, could you request a modification based on your own decrease in available income?
Both paying and receiving parents can request a child support order modification any time there is a change in life circumstances that requires an adjustment to the payments. Inflation does qualify as a reason to request a modification—for both sides. Some parents may have had a cost of living adjustment (COLA) included in their order of child support. This would mean that child support payments would increase annually, based on the calculations included in the order and using the consumer price index to calculate the increases.
How Is Florida Child Support Calculated?
The state of Florida uses what is known as an “income shares model” when calculating child support. Basically, the amount of money each parent spent on their child while married is estimated and then added together. That number is then divided between the parents based on their respective incomes. As an example, suppose the parents together spent $2,000 per month on their child.
Following the divorce, the mother, who makes the higher income, will pay $1500 per month to the father who will pay $500 per month. This is a very basic example that can change significantly due to child custody, medical costs, special needs of the child, employment changes following the divorce, the cost of daycare, special schools, extracurricular activities…the list goes on.
The number of overnight stays each parent has with the child will impact the amount of child support required—although child support will likely be paid even when the children spend equal time with each parent. As an example, even when the parents share time with the children equally, it is likely that one parent makes more money, therefore, will be required to pay child support.
When shared custody is involved, the court will calculate the total amount of child support payments, then determine each parent’s share (under the Florida Child Support Guidelines). The amount of time each parent has custody of the child (as a percentage) will then be taken into consideration. If there is shared custody, each parent would have 50 percent of the financial responsibility. This amount is adjusted, based on the income of each parent.
Parents whose combined monthly net income exceeds the $10,000 listed in the Guidelines will require additional calculations based on the number of children and how much above the $10,000 the income is. It is important to understand that the court has the discretion to deviate from the Guidelines when supported by the facts. Child support must be “reasonable,” and must not require the paying parent to pay more than he or she can afford.
When Can Florida Child Support Get Modified?
Under current Florida child support law, child support is modifiable by either parent, so long as the modification would result in at least a $50 or 15 percent increase or decrease (whichever is greater). When there is a court order in place requiring child support, a modification can be requested any time there has been a “substantial change in circumstances.”
Changes in income are usually the cause of a child support modification request. Suppose the paying parent has lost their job (through no fault of their own) and has taken a lower-paying job. Perhaps the receiving parent just received his or her advanced degree and now has a job that pays significantly more than they were making at the time child support was determined.
This can work either way—if the paying parent is now making substantially less or substantially more than at the time of the child support order, a child support modification can be requested. If the receiving parent now makes substantially more or substantially less than he or she did at the time of the child support order, child support modification can be requested.
A modification in child support can also be requested when there has been a substantial change in parenting time. Recent changes in child support laws have given parents a boost when requesting modifications in child support due to changing parenting time. The law now allows courts to recalculate child support based on actual “parenting patterns,” currently in place.
As an example, the original parenting plan may have determined child support based on one parent having 250 overnights with the child and the other parent having 115 overnights with the child.
However, the history of the actual overnights might not support an order of child support based on these numbers. In reality, the parent who was supposed to have 115 overnights with the child might only have had 40. Keep in mind that Florida law only allows for modification based on the actual number of overnights if the parent who has fewer overnights has at least 20 percent.
In this scenario, if one parent was awarded 73 overnights in the parenting plan (20 percent) yet in reality only had 30 overnights, child support could not be modified based on these numbers. If, however, the parent had 146 overnights according to the parenting plan (40 percent) but only had the child for 30 overnights, then a child support modification could be awarded based on those numbers.
Changes in child-related expenses are also a valid justification for a child support modification. That being said, the types of expenses that are allowed in modifying child support are very limited and very specific. These include:
- Changes in daycare or childcare expenses—Changes in expenses for childcare do not apply to stay-at-home parents, rather must be tied to parental employment needs.
- Changes in spousal support—Spousal support or alimony and child support are interrelated. This means that when spousal support ends, the parent receiving the spousal support sees a drop in income, and the parent paying the spousal support sees an increase in income.
- Orders for additional, court-ordered child support or the end of court-ordered child support. If the paying parent is currently paying other child support for children from other marriages, this is a valid deduction to his or her income. If that parent is court-ordered to pay more child support for that child or children, or if the child support ends (the child turns 18), then this will affect that parent’s overall income. Based on the difference, the paying parent may ask to pay less child support, or the receiving parent may ask for an increase based on the increase in income.
- More children. The parents have more than one child between them, and one of those children graduates. Older court orders in cases with more than one child may not contain an automatic “step-down” provision that amends the amount of child support when a child graduates from high school or is no longer entitled to child support. If there is no automatic “step-down,” then the paying parent may need to file a modification to adjust the child support accordingly. (Most recent child support orders will automatically adjust the amount of child support when a child graduates or is no longer entitled to child support).
- An increase in taxes—If the paying parent moves from a state that has no payroll tax to a state that does require payroll tax, this could make a significant difference in that parent’s overall income. This can work in reverse if the paying parent moves from a state that does have payroll tax requirements to a state that does not.
- Changes to the child’s healthcare costs—Changes in the healthcare costs of the child will have no bearing on a child support modification if the child currently receives state-provided healthcare.
If, however, the child receives his or her healthcare through one parent’s employment, modifications could be necessary for several circumstances. If the parent who provided the child’s healthcare through his or her job lost that job (through no fault of their own), then healthcare costs would become an issue that could require a modification of child support. If the healthcare premiums significantly increased for the paying parent, he or she might ask for a downward modification of child support obligations.
- Changes to a parent’s healthcare costs—While each parent is responsible for his or her own health insurance, the cost of that health insurance is a valid deduction from gross income. If one parent’s healthcare premiums substantially increased, then this could be a reason to ask for a modification in child support based on a change in net income.
- The needs of the child have profoundly changed—This could be an issue if the child is diagnosed with an illness that requires special medical treatments and special care. In this case, the receiving parent might ask the paying parent to increase child support payments to cover the extra expense. Likewise, if the child has recovered from an illness that required special medical treatments and special care, the child support might be modified downward. The courts will not consider “luxury” items a valid reason to modify child support. “Luxury” items may include private school tuition, extracurricular activities, and other non-essential items that do not fall under the “basic” needs of the child.
- A serious illness or long-term disability for either parent is a valid reason to modify child support. If either parent is diagnosed with a serious, long-term illness or disability that will affect his or her ability to work and have an income, then a child support modification may be warranted.
- Temporary situations, such as a temporary lay-off or a medical emergency, are also grounds for a temporary modification in child support. Temporary modifications of child support will be given a specific amount of time by the judge before another modification will be necessary or the prior arrangement resumes.
What is the Process for Florida Child Support Modification?
Once you have determined that you qualify under Florida laws to ask for a modification in child support, you may wonder about the actual process. It is wise to consult an experienced Florida child support modification attorney from Ayo and Iken before trying to modify your child support agreement. The process can be complex, and you must receive a new agreement that accurately reflects current circumstances, whether for you or the child’s other parent.
Your attorney will file Form 12.905(b)—Supplemental Petition for Modification of Child Support—to begin the process. The other parent must legally be notified of the filing of this petition. If the parent fails to respond to the motion within the allotted 20 days, a Motion for Default can be filed with the court clerk. After this motion has been filed, both you and the child’s other parent must attend a hearing that will establish a new amount for child support.
If the other parent responds promptly to the Petition for Modification of Child Support and does not disagree, then the paperwork will be completed, and both parents will attend a hearing to finalize the new child support amount.
If, after you have filed the Supplemental Petition for Modification of Child Support, the Petition is contested by the child’s other parent, that parent will file a counterpetition. This counterpetition will include the reasons the parent opposes the modification and may ask for a modification of their own—in the other direction. You have twenty days to respond to a counterpetition for a child support modification. If the parents are unable to reach an agreement regarding the child support modification, a Notice of Trial will be filed by your attorney. This Notice of Trial will be accompanied by all required documents.
When the judge agrees to a modification of child support—a process that can take as long as six months—the support is usually modified from the date the Supplemental Petition for Modification of Child Support was filed. Because of this, if you have any idea that a change might potentially impact child support, you should speak to your Ayo and Iken attorney immediately.
Call us at 844-598-2036 or fill out our confidential contact form to schedule an initial consultation.