Every parent has an obligation to support his or her children. When couples with children divorce or in situations where the parents are not married or living together, then the noncustodial parent can be ordered to pay child support shortly after a party files for divorce or legal separation. In most cases, however, there is no dispute over the obligation and the noncustodial parent is happy to provide the support for the child’s needs and will begin making payments directly to the custodial parent shortly after there is a separation.
The theory behind child support is that the parent who has primary custody of the child bears most of the ordinary expenses in raising the child as well as the daily responsibilities. By having the noncustodial parent pay a certain amount to the other parent each month, the child has the benefit of the financial support the child would have enjoyed if both parents were living together.
Child support can be a contentious issue that can create resentment, distrust and animus between the parents that can adversely affect the children who readily realize the dispute undoubtedly concerns them. By accepting your obligation and being timely with the payments, you can eliminate a major source of contention between you and your ex – to the benefit of your children.
How Child Support is Determined
The amount of the support is determined by published guidelines that take into account, among other things:
•The parents’ net income
• Number of children
• The percentage of time spent with the child
• The child’s healthcare and childcare costs and needs including cost of insurance
Child care and healthcare expenses are divided between the parents based on their respective incomes. The support payments continue until the child attains the age of 18 or graduates from high school. If you have a special needs child who is incapable of self-support at any time, the obligation could last indefinitely or for the life of your child. There should be a provision in any court order or marital settlement agreement recognizing the child’s special needs.
By following the guidelines or having a divorce attorney provide assistance, you can easily ascertain your monthly obligation and begin paying as soon as possible after filing for divorce or separation or after you or your spouse moves out of the primary residence.
Can the Parents Agree on Child Support?
The parents can agree on an amount without court intervention, but if the noncustodial parent refuses to pay or the custodial parent wishes to enforce the other parent’s obligation, there must be in place a child support order issued by the court. The parties may not waive child support in Florida since it is a legal obligation and is for the sole support of the child.
If the divorcing parents settle for an amount that is less than the guidelines, they must be prepared to explain how this is in the best interests of the child or if there are extenuating circumstances justifying the lower amount.
If you want to modify a child support order, you must prove a substantial change in circumstances since the last court order establishing child support. Your petition for modification must demonstrate that there has been a material change in circumstances and the change must be either 15% or $50 of the existing obligation, whichever is more.
How are Child Support Payments Made?
You can make your support payments by simply writing a check each month or depositing the sum in the custodial parent’s bank account each month. If paying once monthly is not convenient or too onerous, there is no reason why a weekly or bi-weekly payment cannot be made – so long as the ordered or agreed upon amount is paid in full by the end of the month.
If you are under a court child support order, you may send a check to the Florida SDU or State of Florida Disbursement Unit. Or, you may open an account with the clerk of court in the county where the child lives. There is a website called www.myfloridacounty.com where you can establish an account for making your payments, though it does require that you pay using a credit card. You can also have your employer deduct the amounts from your paycheck to be sent to the SDU.
If there is a paternity issue, then the start of child support payments may be delayed until the DNA test results are obtained, and if the noncustodial parent is reluctant to make payments. Paternity and support cases can take as long as 6 to 8 months. However, parents can request a retroactive child support which can create a retroactive child support obligation for up to two years prior to the action being filed.