In any child support case, there are several factors to balance. The central goal, of course, is to ensure that the child receives the support that they need and deserve. It is, however, also important to ensure that the obligor parent is not assigned a child support obligation that is too great, both to serve the interests of fairness and due to the negative impact excessive financial obligations could have on the parent-child relationship. In one recent South Florida divorce case, the trial court’s imposition of child support was overturned by the Fourth District Court of Appeal because there wasn’t sufficient “competent substantial evidence” to back up the court’s assessment of the husband’s income. The case is a reminder of what is and is not sufficient to establish income on the part of an obligor parent.
The divorce of Calvin and Toleatha presented several issues for the court, including equitable distribution and child support. With regard to the child support issue, the husband testified in court that he had a net monthly income of roughly $2,100 per month working as a dispatcher for his girlfriend’s company. Due to his criminal history and recent release from prison, his employment opportunities were limited. The husband also testified that he had expenses of $4,749 and a monthly deficit of more than $2,600.
Based upon the husband’s testimony, the trial court calculated the husband’s child support using a monthly income amount of $4,749. The judge concluded that the money to pay the husband’s monthly expenses was coming from somewhere, so obviously he was receiving, or was capable of making, at least $4,749 per month.
The husband appealed, and he won. The problem with this child support calculation was the shortage of hard evidence to back up the finding. Florida law requires “competent substantial evidence” when it comes to determining income for calculating child support. Suspicions, conjecture, or speculation are not competent substantial evidence. The mere fact that the husband’s monthly financial obligations were being met, despite his making $2,600 less than his expenses, did not conclusively establish, through competent substantial evidence, that the husband was getting additional income from his girlfriend, his family, or another unrevealed source.
There was proof that the husband lived with his girlfriend and that he worked for her, but there was no evidence that she gave him any money other than his pay or that she reimbursed his expenses. Instead, the trial judge simply inferred that, since the husband claimed a monthly deficit of $2,646 on his financial affidavit, that meant that he was getting an extra $2,646 of income from some source. While that may have been accurate, with the evidence presented in this case, it was inferred conjecture and did not meet the “competent substantial evidence” requirement.
The appeals court’s opinion also pointed out the fundamental unfairness of the difference in the way the trial judge treated the husband’s deficit as opposed to the wife’s. The court inferred that the husband’s $2,600 deficit must have been met by payments from someone, such as his girlfriend or family, and should be counted as income to him. The wife, in her financial affidavit, claimed a monthly deficit of $5,100. The trial court did not, however, conclude that the deficit must be the result of payments to the wife by her boyfriend or some other source, and it did not count that $5,100 as income to her.
Whether you are the obligor parent or the recipient parent in a child support situation, it is important to pursue a fair outcome, such that your child can receive the proper support that he or she needs. The skilled South Florida child support attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have many years’ experience representing clients and helping them achieve workable solutions in their child support cases. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
Florida Court Upholds Decision Not to Impose Immediate Child Support Obligation Against Father Facing Prison, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Feb. 10, 2017
Hearsay Rule Prevents Admission of Florida Husband’s Bank Statements for Purpose of Imputing Income, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Feb. 3, 2017