Articles Posted in Child Support

When your marriage breaks down and divorce ensues, there are several issues you and your spouse have to work out. To resolve some or all of these, you and your spouse may sign a marital settlement agreement (MSA). If you, at some point after your divorce is finalized, happen to violate the terms of your MSA, there are potential consequences you can face, but the law also erects some clear limits on what the courts can do to you. Obviously, the best path is to avoid violating your MSA but, if you do, make sure you have a skilled South Florida family law attorney on your side for any contempt of court actions that ensue.

A.B. was a husband who faced contempt charges after he made that kind of error. He and his ex-wife were a divorced couple with two children. The couple had an MSA that said that each spouse was entitled to claim one child as a dependent on their federal income tax return. However, in 2017, the father claimed both kids on his return.

So, what can a court do to a spouse in situation like that? When a spouse violates the terms of an MSA, there are actually several things that can occur. It is important to recognize that, if your divorce is final and your marital settlement agreement was what the law calls “incorporated” into the final judgment of divorce, then the terms of that agreement aren’t just a binding contract, they carry the weight of an order of the court.

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We all make mistakes. For some people, that may mean putting some less-than-perfect information in a tax return. For others, that may mean using that flawed return in a divorce proceeding. Now, to be clear, you should never cheat on your income taxes and you should never provide to a court any proposed piece of evidence that is inaccurate, misleading or false. However, even when you have made mistakes in the pursuit of a divorce, there are still limits on the actions that the judge can take. An experienced Fort Lauderdale divorce attorney can help in cases like this in many ways. Your experienced attorney can help you make sure that you avoid submitting documents to the court that lack candor and, if you’ve made mistakes before you hired counsel, your attorney also can help protect you when a judge oversteps her legal authority.

As an example of how these kinds of boundaries can work, there’s the Orange County case of M.B., who was a self-employed commercial truck driver and a husband going through divorce. At his divorce trial, the husband presented numerous financial affidavits and three years of tax returns. “The tax returns — which included deductions for business expenses and for cost of goods sold — showed a significant disparity” between what the husband actually made and what he declared as his final taxable income, according to the appeals court.

At trial, the husband disclosed that his work entailed only transporting goods, and that he did not actually sell goods. That, of course, was a problem for the husband and his case. Based on this evidence, the judge decided that the husband’s tax documents did not accurately display his true income and the judge imputed income to the husband.

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Today, more than ever in recent memory, people have side businesses. Perhaps they drive for Uber, housesit, walk dogs, deliver groceries or have some other freelance gig. For others, it’s owning rental property, as changes in the economy have made owning rental property very attractive in recent years. Whatever your side business, it is important to understand how it can impact other aspects of your life, such as your child support obligation. Obviously, if your side business is profitable, that has the potential to raise your child support obligation. What about, however, a business that is losing, not earning, money? The law in Florida may be able to help you… if you know how to advance your case properly. For that, be sure you have the services of a skilled Fort Lauderdale child support attorney.

Such was the case for S.S. Before she got married, S.S. purchased a townhouse property. Fast forward several years and S.S. had gotten married, had a child and gotten divorced. At this point, S.S. still owned the townhouse but was using it as a rental property. Although she had a tenant in the townhouse, the mortgage payments and maintenance fees on the place were so high that, even with the rental income, S.S. was still losing money every month on the property.

That townhouse “in the red” became an issue when it came time to litigate S.S.’s divorce from A.M. In order to set child support in any case in Florida, the court needs to make determinations about the money that is available to support the child. That includes making a finding about the father’s gross income and the mother’s gross income.

Florida law gives trial court judges a lot of options in how they resolve issues like child support obligations. As part of that process, the law recognizes that a supporting parent may provide support to his/her child in meaningful and valuable ways beyond just paying cash to the majority timesharing parent. The law factors those other forms of support when determining how much the parent’s monthly monetary payments should be.

That, however, can lead to problems sometimes. Specifically, what do you do if the court factored in a non-cash form of support, but the supporting parent never actually incurred that expense? These and other tricky issues when it comes to child support are good examples of why it pays be sure that you have a skilled South Florida family law attorney on your side throughout your case.

The above scenario was what happened in C.C.’s case. When determining the amount of support P.S., the father, owed, the judge made a decision that was what the law calls a “substantial deviation” from the amount indicated by the Florida child support guidelines. Whenever a judge enters an order on child support and the obligation amount is a significant deviation from what the guidelines call for, the judge must have a good reason for deviating, and must clearly state why the deviation was appropriate.

Recently, this blog touched upon some of the circumstances in which a parent’s child support obligation might continue even after the child has turned 18. Some of those scenarios included things like a child who’s on track for graduating high school after turning 18 but before 19, or a child who has disabilities.

There is, however, another way in which you might find yourself paying child support on a child who has already turned 18, and it is a reminder that no detail in your marital settlement agreement is too small to deserve full and careful attention, and no spouse should navigate the divorce process in this state without an experienced South Florida divorce attorney by your side.

Here’s a case that drives home that point: G.S. and T.S. were the divorced parents of three children. The spouses signed their divorce agreement in 2005. Eventually, the father fell behind on child support and his wages were garnished.

Many online news headlines are intentionally constructed to be shocking, thereby getting you to click. In one recent example, a British online news publication covered a case where two Gloucestershire parents were ordered to support their 16-year-old married daughter and to pay that support to the girl’s 27-year-old husband.

Sounds shocking, doesn’t it? It may also lead you to wonder… could that happen to me, here in Florida? If you are the majority-timesharing parent of a teen, could you go from receiving child support to paying child support if your under-18 child marries? As always, to get the customized answers you need, which are tailored to the specific facts of your case, be sure to consult with a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney. (Generally speaking, though, a Florida parent would never find himself or herself in the position that these two British parents found themselves.)

Many people focus closely on a child’s 18th birthday when it comes to assessing how long a child support obligation lasts. However, Florida law actually acknowledges several scenarios in which a child support obligation might end prior to a child’s 18th birthday. One is if the child obtains a court judgment declaring the child to be legally “emancipated.” This is also sometimes called “divorcing one’s parents.” Several celebrities, like actors Macaulay Culkin, Ariel Winter, Jaime Pressly and Juliette Lewis and Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu, have successfully undertaken such action. Once a child is emancipated, the parents lose all parental authority over that child, but also lose the obligation to support that child financially.

When you are the spouse or parent who is potentially responsible for paying alimony or child support, there are a lot of financial factors that go into calculating exactly how much that obligation should be. One of the things that the law requires courts to consider is other payments that benefit your spouse and/or child. For example, if you are paying the mortgage payment on the house in which your spouse lives, that payment could be declared to be a type of spousal support. Similarly, paying 100% of your children’s private school tuition might qualify as a form of child support. These areas can be especially important when you’re in a case where you are potentially facing an order to pay retroactive support.

Two recent cases show how the process is supposed to work, and what you can do when it doesn’t. In the first, J.C.J. and M.J. were Palm Beach County parents going through divorce. At the conclusion of the divorce case, the trial judge made several rulings about alimony and child support. One of the rulings demanded that the father pay retroactive child support.

The father later appealed and won a reversal of the retroactive child support order. The reason? When the trial judge made that ruling, he didn’t factor in the mortgage payments that the father had made. The father had evidence that he had been the one who paid the mortgage payments on the home in which the child lived during the pendency of the divorce. Florida law says that a supporting parent is entitled to receive credit for “actual payments” made to the child or to the other parent. They’re also entitled to credit when making payments to third parties for the benefit of the child. That includes things like payments to lenders or landlords to cover the housing payment for the home in which the child resides. This father didn’t get that credit, which is why he was entitled to have his retroactive child support recalculated.

Whether you are a parent with majority timesharing, have minority timesharing or have a 50-50 arrangement, child support can have a very important impact on your ability to provide for your child and, especially if you are the minority timesharing parent, maintain a close relationship with that child. With that in mind, arriving at a fair and just amount of child support can be very important for all members of your family. To help with these and other elements of divorce, be certain you have the representation you need from a skilled South Florida family law attorney.

When it comes to calculating child support, there are guidelines for making that determination. However, even with pre-existing guidelines, the calculation relies upon certain information that isn’t pre-set, like determining the amount of income each parent makes. This is one area, among several, where the potential for errors exists, and those errors have the possibility to cause you great harm.

The recent case of a family from Central Florida provides a useful example. R.M. and C.M. had a 50-50 timesharing arrangement regarding their two minor children. Even with equal timesharing, one parent may still be entitled to an award of child support if the other parent makes more money. In this case, the trial court determined that C.M., the mother, made $107,761. R.M., the father, had been recently involuntarily terminated from his job at a bank. He had just started a brand-new medical underwriting company. The company had one client and had invoiced that client the sum of $7,200 for a job that, the court concluded, took one month to perform.

If you are familiar with Florida’s legal rules that relate to child support, then you may have heard the phrase “imputed income.” Imputed income means that, when it comes to calculating child support, a court will perform that calculation based upon that imputed income amount, even though the paying parent’s actual income is less–sometimes significantly less. A court may assign imputed income because the paying parent is unemployed by choice, or is voluntarily employed in a job making less than what he’s capable of earning. These rules exist to prevent a paying spouse from not working or underperforming by choice in order to avoid paying more child support.

So, then, one important question that may be on your mind is when, exactly, can a court impute income? What if I relocated to a new city and the job prospects there are less lucrative? What if I began working fewer hours because I needed to care for a seriously ill family member? What if I decided that I simply wanted to “slow down” a bit in terms of work? For helpful answers to questions about your specific situation, be sure to consult a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney.

D.W. and T.W. were parents involved in this kind of dispute. When they divorced in 2009, the father agreed to pay $550 per month in child support. Several years later, financial circumstances had changed and both parents were back in court seeking a modification of child support. The father, who was once a high-level executive chef and had also owned his own restaurant in the Panama City area, had left that work to run a small coffee shop with his current wife.

In this blog, and likely in other sources, you’ve read pieces emphasizing the importance of not “going it alone” in your family law case, but instead obtaining a skilled South Florida family law attorney to represent you in your action. That’s advice is effective for many reasons. One is that, while you may think that your case will simply come down the resolution of factual disputes, almost any type of case (whether it’s family law or something else) can be greatly helped by a legal professional with in-depth knowledge of the procedural rules in effect in Florida.

As a real-life example of this, here’s the case of D.S. and A.S. The Seminole County couple was in court over a child support dispute. The mother, A.S., wanted the father, D.S., to pay more child support (in terms of duration). She filed a “petition for modification of child support.” The trial court in Seminole County referred the case to a general magistrate.

There might be several strategic or tactical reasons why you might prefer that your case not be heard by a magistrate. This father found himself in that position and timely filed a written objection to the referral to the magistrate. Despite the promptly lodged written objection, the case still went forward before the magistrate and the mother was successful, with the magistrate extending the father’s child support obligation for an additional one year.

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