Modifying Child Support in Florida
A pivotal issue in many divorce cases is the awarding of child support, since many custodial parents rely on this money to provide for their children. This necessary reliance on regular receipt of child support payments can create real problems if the payments become irregular or completely stop altogether. One method the state uses to compel the payment of child support is to suspend the driver’s licenses of parents who are delinquent.
A recent news story out of Jacksonville considers whether it makes sense to suspend licenses for non-driving violations given the likelihood that the driver did not have the money to pay the back child support in any case and that the suspension just prevents the parent from getting to work, putting them further into the hole. Parents who experience changes in their financial situation that render them unable to pay the child support amount ordered in the initial divorce decree have the option of asking a court to adjust that number to something they can afford. To request this adjustment, the parent must first file a petition for modification of child support. An overview of the circumstances that would justify a change in a child support order and different options for initiating the process will appear below.
Grounds for Requesting Modification
Florida law allows for the modification of child support orders if there is “a substantial change in circumstances.” Additionally, a prerequisite for a finding of substantial change requires the difference between the current child support amount and the revised amount to be at least 15 percent or $50, whichever is greater. In other words, unless the modified amount would change the obligation by 15 percent or $50, there will be no modification of the child support order.
There are three general bases under which a court may be willing to adjust child support. They are a change in income, a change in parenting time and a change in expenses. A change in income can stem from the payor or recipient and can be the result of increase or decrease in funds. As long as the new amount meets the 15 percent or $50 threshold, it could be considered “a substantial change.” One important note – if the parent paying the child support loses his/her job, it is necessary to show the job loss was involuntary and not solely motivated by an intention to reduce the child support obligation.
For changes in parenting time, a court is permitted to look at the actual split, and not just what is outlined in a parenting plan, when it determines if a significant change occurred. If the parent paying child support can show a pattern of increased parenting time, regardless of what is in the parenting plan, a court can use this as a basis to adjust down the child support owed.
Finally, a change in expenses related to things like childcare, alimony, taxes, health insurance for the child and/or the parent and other child support orders are routinely considered as grounds for modifying child support. For example, a parent’s health insurance, taxes and other child support orders are all deducted from income under the child support guidelines, so a large change in any of these costs could support a modification.
Anyone wishing to modify a child support order has a few options to initiate the process. They can file a petition with the court on their own, hire an attorney to represent them or use the Florida Department of Revenue (DOR) to intervene on their behalf. If the DOR was ever involved in a previous child support order, it must be included as a party in a modification petition, which can complicate and lengthen the process.
Hire an Attorney
If you are parent who needs to change the amount ordered for child support, your best option is work with an attorney on a modification petition. A lawyer may be able to alert you to additional grounds for modification you did not consider and ensure you fully present all the supporting documents. The Tampa law firm of Bubley & Bubley, P.A. offers legal services on a variety of family law matters and is available to assist you. Contact us to schedule an appointment.