Articles Posted in Child Support

You may have heard phrases like “due process” or “equal protection” on the news or in a courtroom TV show, but you may not imagine them having a substantial impact on your divorce case. You may assume that your divorce case will involve, primarily, an assessment of the factual evidence each side presents. That is not always true, however. Any family law case, like any other case, can turn on issues of fact or issues of law, including constitutional law. That’s why, no matter how straightforward or basic you may think your family law case is, you should be sure to retain the services of an experienced South Florida family law attorney.

One recent South Florida case is an example of this concept. Zanja and Richard’s case started as a straightforward paternity, timesharing, and child support matter. The court originally scheduled the hearing for one day. As is true in many cases, this pair’s hearing ran long. At the end of the first day of the hearing, the judge scheduled a second day for the continuation of the hearing. At the start of that second day, the court indicated that both sides would have a chance to present their cases-in-chief.

At the end of the second day, the parties still weren’t finished. However, this time, the judge did not allow the hearing to expand to another day. The judge ordered that, due to time limitations, each side would simply wrap up by presenting their closing arguments, and the judge would rule on what had been presented. There was one major problem:  the mother still hadn’t had the opportunity to present her case-in-chief yet.

In many court disputes involving children, child support is a key issue. Calculating the correct amount of child support can be complicated if one of the parents is not working. If the parent is unable to work, the court may proceed with calculating support based that parent’s having zero income. If the parent is able to work, however, the court must do what’s called “imputing” income to that parent. That means calculating child support as if that parent is receiving an income that he or she isn’t actually getting, and it can make a big difference in the outcome of your child support case. Whether you are potentially paying support or seeking it for your child, make sure you have the services of an experienced Florida child support attorney on your side.

Jennifer and Miguel were two parents whose child support case presented an imputed income issue. They had a child together who was born in 2009. In 2010, the father initiated a paternity action, and the court awarded him majority timesharing. The mother had been employed by the sheriff’s office but lost that job due to alleged misconduct, including misusing electronic resources of the sheriff’s office in order to obtain information about the father’s attorneys and his girlfriend.

In his court case, the father argued that the court should impute income to the mother and should do so at the relatively substantial amount she was making with the sheriff’s office when she was terminated. The mother, on the other hand, asserted that she was disabled and that, because of her disabilities and her inability to find another job, the court should not impute any income at all to her.

In some ways, calculating an appropriate child support obligation can be a bit like calculating income taxes. In situations in which the supporting parent (or the taxpayer in the tax return analogy) has exactly one source of income, the calculation may be very direct because it requires proof of only that one figure. In today’s economy, though, more and more people derive income from multiple sources. When that is true, the calculation process becomes more complicated. Additionally, just as a self-employed taxpayer often needs detailed proof of his income and expenses (particularly when he asserts that his business lost money), something similar is true of a business owner who owes child support. Florida law is very clear that, in order for the judge to factor in your business losses, you have to give the court hard proof of those losses. To make sure that you have all of the proof you need to achieve a successful result in your child support case, make sure that you have an experienced Florida child support attorney on your side.

The case of Ruben and Aixa was an example of how the lack of this type of proof can harm a supporting parent’s case. At trial, evidence demonstrated that Ruben had a variety of sources of income. He had a salary from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, living expenses reimbursement from the V.A., disability benefits, and rental income. He also had an indoor batting cage business in Orlando.

At the child support hearing, Ruben testified that his batting cage business was actually in the red during the relevant time period. The father then argued that the judge should take those business losses and subtract them from his other sources of income to calculate his true gross income. The trial court did subtract some of those losses and used the result of this subtraction as the gross-income figure from which it calculated Ruben’s child support payment.

There exists in many places, including within popular culture, an idea that the obligation to provide child support lasts for, at most, 18 years. Under this notion, once the child reaches the age of majority, on his or her 18th birthday, he or she is a legal adult, and the supporting parent’s obligation ends. But is that really the way the law surrounding child support works? For reliable answers regarding your specific child support issues in this state, the correct move is to consult an experienced Florida child support attorney.

A case originating in Palm Beach County involved one of the potential scenarios in which child support can extend past the child’s 18th birthday. Pablo and Elizabeth were the parents of several children, one of whom had special needs. Under Florida law, in order for a child support obligation to extend past a child’s 18th birthday, the child’s special needs must be so significant that they amount to a mental or physical deficiency that makes the child “unable to support himself.” That deficiency must also have initially started prior to the child’s 18th birthday in order to trigger the ongoing obligation. When that degree of special needs exists, the supporting parent’s support obligation can continue indefinitely.

In Elizabeth’s case, she was unable to win her argument for extended child support because she failed to follow proper procedural protocols. Specifically, she had not “preserved” that issue for the appeals court to review it. She was, however, still allowed to go back to the trial court and file a new motion to request a modification of child support and, in that motion, ask for the father’s support obligation to extend past the special needs child’s 18th birthday.

In any divorce case that involves minor children, the issues of child custody and child support are likely to be important elements of the case. Sometimes, if your spouse is determined by the court to be voluntarily underemployed or unemployed, you may be entitled to a larger child support payment (if you’re the recipient parent) or a smaller child support obligation (if you’re the supporting parent) based upon what’s known as imputing income to your spouse. Making a successful argument for the imputation of income often requires very detailed knowledge of both the facts and the law and can be a place where a knowledgeable South Florida child support attorney can help you. A recent case originally from Miami-Dade County demonstrates how you can succeed, even if your spouse claims to be disabled.

The case involved Michelle and Charles, a couple who married in 1992 and remained that way for 22 years. They had four children. The couple’s divorce trial focused on, among other things, the amount of child support the wife should receive. The husband was a fishing guide who made more than $80,000 per year. The wife, who had earned $20 per hour in the past as a bookkeeper, suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome and was unemployed at the time of the divorce.

When the trial court calculated child support, it set the husband’s income as $84,427. On the wife’s side, it counted as income several monthly payments she regularly received, and the trial judge also imputed income to the wife in the amount of $487 per month. Based on these numbers, the court ordered the husband to pay $799 per month in child support. The wife appealed this ruling but decided to go forward in her appellate case without an attorney. One of the issues she argued in her appeal was the trial judge’s decision to impute a part-time income to her in calculating child support.

A lot of family law cases get resolved based upon relatively straightforward legal bases – things like, “What do the Child Support Guidelines indicate is the proper amount of child support?” or “What custody arrangement does the judge conclude represents the best interest of the child?” Occasionally, though, some family law cases involve more expansive issues like Florida public policy or the U.S. Constitution. Regardless of whether your case involves litigating something related to the Child Support Guidelines or the U.S. Constitution, your case needs an experienced Florida child support attorney who is well-versed in all of the laws and knows how to apply them to your case.

One recent case in which the U.S. Constitution played an integral role in deciding the outcome was a child support dispute from Gainesville. The parents’ divorce was finalized in 2007 in Michigan. The couple’s Michigan final judgment included a mediation agreement that the couple had worked out. One of the provisions within that mediation agreement stated that the father had the option to prepay his child support for the couple’s two children and that, if he did so, he was entitled to “interest at the rate of one and a quarter percent per month on any amount of prepaid child support.” The agreement also stated that the father would not receive any payments of interest but would instead receive his interest in the form of credits against his future child support obligations.

The agreement additionally called for the couple to go through an annual process of calculating how much interest the father had earned that year. This last part led the couple back to court, with the father alleging that the mother had refused to participate in the mandatory annual accounting process. The mother, in opposition, argued that her participation (or lack thereof) was immaterial. The court was required to dismiss the father’s case, she maintained, since enforcing the interest-and-credit provision would leave the children without child support, and that made it contrary to Florida public policy.

Being accused of being voluntarily underemployed or voluntarily unemployed can be potentially very problematic in any Florida alimony or child support case. This is true whether you are the supported spouse/parent or the supporting spouse/parent. If you are the spouse paying support, and the court rules against you, you could end up paying an amount of support based on an amount that’s far in excess of the actual amount of income you make. If you are the parent receiving the support payments, a ruling that you are voluntarily underemployed may substantially cut into the necessary support money you would have otherwise received. Regardless of whether you are in a child support or alimony case, and whether you are the supported spouse/parent or the supporting spouse/parent, you should contact a skilled Florida child support attorney promptly to help you defend your rights.

One recent case in which such an issue arose was the divorce of Joseph and Andrea, a couple who were married for 12 years until the husband filed for divorce in Palm Beach County. The couple had one child together. Both the husband and the wife were accomplished professionals. The wife had a communications degree from a university in Los Angeles, and the husband had an engineering degree from the University of Florida.

As with many parents, the couple decided to make career changes in order to address the needs of their child, with one parent transitioning from a “traditional” job to a home-based, self-employed position. This allowed for the continuation of work and income while also addressing the day-to-day needs of the child. In this family, though, that parent was the father, rather than the mother.

In your alimony or child support case, there can be many components that go into calculating the appropriate amount of support owed. Part of making that calculation is ensuring that only a supporting spouse (or parent)’s regular and continuous income is factored into the determination. Whether or not you are the supporting spouse or parent, getting this determination of income correct can be integral to your case and is one of many ways an experienced Fort Lauderdale divorce attorney can help. For one husband and father, his counsel persuaded the Second District Court of Appeal that a lower court erred by using an older year’s bonus income instead of his most recent bonus in calculating his alimony and child support payments.

In the recent divorce case of Matthew and Jilla, originating in southwest Florida, one main item with which the courts wrangled was the calculation of the husband’s income for determining his support obligations. The man made a little more than $100,000 per year ($8,476 per month) in salary. He also, though, got an annual bonus. The trial court, in making its calculations in this case, used the husband’s 2013 bonus ($133,332) to arrive at an income figure of $19,583 per month. This $19,583 sum was the figure the court used to determine both alimony and child support.

The husband appealed, and he won. The problem was that the methodology for calculating his income was legally flawed. Section 61.30 of the Florida Statutes requires the inclusion of bonuses in calculating a supporting spouse or parent’s obligations. The courts have made it clear that, in order to count in this calculation, bonus income must be regular and continuous. Thus, using an example from a Second DCA case from March, when a man received a $30,000 bonus each year for 12 years, the trial court in that matter properly added $2,500 to the man’s monthly income because that bonus income was regular and continuous.

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.

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In the latest chapter of what has become an expanding issue for Florida’s appellate courts, another district court has weighed in upon whether or not trial courts should impose child support obligations upon parents who are in prison. In this most recent case, the Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled that the father’s voluntary decision to commit a crime was the sort of voluntary act leading to underemployment or unemployment that allowed courts to impute income and order support.

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