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Under child support laws, income isn't just the number on a W-2

In a perfect world, every marriage would be perfect, and every child would be able to experience a loving home where they would be able to benefit from the presence and financial means of their parents' combined resources. For many reasons, this doesn't always happen.

In 2013, Florida's divorce rate was more than 13%, and ranked among the top five states with the most divorces in the country. When these couples have minor children, the question of child support is a looming one. How much child support is appropriate? Who is going to have to pay? How much will they pay?

The answers to these questions depend on a number of factors, including how the exact parenting plan is laid out, and the income, assets, and direct expenses related to the care of the children, such as health insurance premiums or day care expenses.

One less thing to argue about, or not?

One of the benefits of the child support system works in Florida is that the state has a specific way of calculating what child support should be, based primarily on the combined income of the parents.

For example, without taking into consideration any other factors, if a divorced couple has two children and the custodial parent worked part time making $600 each month, net and the other parent earned $3000 each month, the calculation for the appropriate amount of support for both kids would be approximately $750 according to the child support table, available in the state's record -- but we'll get back to this.

What is considered 'income' under Florida law?

Gross income should include any of the following sources that may be available to the parents:

  • income from salary or wages
  • Payments from bonuses, commissions, tips, allowances, and similar payments that supplement a person's salary.
  • Business income
  • Disability benefits
  • Settlement benefits, including workers compensation
  • Unemployment benefits,
  • Pension or annuity payments
  • Social security income
  • Other spousal support
  • Interest on accounts
  • Rental income

Child support determinations are not quite that simple

We mentioned "getting back" to the $750 support calculation above. The math may work out to $750 based on income, but the final determination is not quite as easy as that. There are many other factors that are considered in either the formula or by a judge -- some of which relate to income.

If the parent who will receive child support is unemployed or underemployed by choice, the assessment of that parent's income is based upon the likely earning potential and will consider factors such as recent work history. The specific needs of the children will be looked into as well. In some cases, the court may decide that it is necessary for one parent to stay at home and care for their children. In these cases, income potential may not be considered.

Another issue comes into play when all income sources are not properly reported. For example, one parent may be receiving income in cash or exchanging services, like a plumber who performs work free-of-charge in exchange for electrical services on a home project. This type of income is more difficult to discover and it takes a skilled lawyer to bring these types of income streams into the picture.

The role of parenting time

The amount of time the children spend with each parent has a direct impact on the amount of child support that is ordered to be paid and received. When the non-custodial parent has their child with them a large portion of the time, in most cases it will reduced the amount of child support they will be ordered to pay. The expectation is that the difference will be made up as that parent spends money on the child.

If the non-custodial parent does not spend time with their child as allotted in the custody agreement, it may be cause to revisit the amount of child support being granted.

Specific child related expenses

Depending on the age and needs of the child there are several child specific expenses, such as medical and dental costs, day care costs, extra care costs for a special needs child, necessary educational expenses, child income, and seasonal income fluctuations can all be reasons to revisit the amount of child support from time to time.

Child support is a primary concern for many parents, but as you can see, it is a complex matter -- and one in which you should always have guidance.