Modification of Child Support Payments in Florida
While there is some hope for improvement soon, the current economic climate has taken its toll on families in Florida and throughout the United States. Unsurprisingly, parents obligated to pay child support - formerly known as noncustodial parents in Florida - have not been immune to the current economic downturn.
While there is some hope for improvement soon, the current economic climate has taken its toll on families in Florida and throughout the United States. Unsurprisingly, parents obligated to pay child support - formerly known as noncustodial parents in Florida - have not been immune to the current economic downturn. A recent survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) indicates that petitions to modify child support obligations are on the rise: nearly 40 percent of AAML members reported an increase in clients seeking child support payment modifications.
Many parents are seeking modifications not because they are unwilling to pay, but rather because of a decrease in income or the loss of a job. In many cases, such circumstances may justify a downward modification of a parent's child support obligation.
In Florida, the court that entered the initial child support order retains jurisdiction to make any requested modifications, both with respect to amount and terms of support. Florida statutes provide guidance as to the circumstances in which a modification is proper, but the decision to order a modification in a particular case is within the court's discretion. Generally, the court may modify a support obligation:
When the modification is necessary for the best interests of the child
When the child reaches majority
When there is a substantial change in the circumstances of one or both of the parties
The court may only order a modification of a child support order if a party has petitioned for a modification. Either party - whether the parent paying or receiving support payments - may petition for a modification.
Generally, the party seeking to reduce child support payments must prove that the modification is necessary. The parent seeking a modification can show necessity by providing evidence of a substantial change of circumstances. For these purposes, a change of circumstances is considered substantial when it is significant, material, permanent and involuntary in nature.
Significant. Decreases in parents' income may be sufficient to justify a child support modification. For example, in a recent Florida case, the court held that a substantial reduction in a father's salary, in combination with his increased living expenses, was significant enough to make modification of his child support obligations necessary.
Permanent. It is not necessary for a party seeking a modification of child support to prove that a change in circumstances will last forever. Florida courts will consider a change in circumstances of sufficient permanence to order a modification of child support if a parent can prove that the change in circumstances is not temporary or transient, but instead encompasses an extended period of time. In general, a change in circumstances lasting for one year or more is of sufficient permanency for the court to grant relief.
Involuntary. Florida courts will not order a modification of child support awards when the reason for the requested decrease is because of a voluntary action of the parent obligated to pay support. For example, a court did not order a downward modification of child support where a parent sought reduction due to the cost of enrolling in law school. The parent's difficulty in paying both his child support and law school tuition resulted from a voluntary action and, despite higher future earning potential, modification was improper.
Although a decrease in a parent's income may justify a reduction in child support payments, even a substantial decrease in income will not justify a modification if the parent has sufficient assets to continue payments and the child's needs have increased.
Contact an Experienced Attorney
Only a court can order a modification of a child support obligation. And even if both parents agree that modification is necessary, disagreements may arise regarding any number of issues. An experienced family law attorney can provide you with further information about your options under Florida law and whether modification of child support payments is available to you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Curt Cowan
In my community, I have been active as an Executive Board Member of the Communities in Schools of Broward County, Inc. and I am active in Broward Lawyers Care. I have been an adjunct professor of law at the Nova Southeastern Law Center, teaching Pretrial Practice to second- and third-year law students.
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.