Articles Posted in Child Support

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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When it comes to child support cases, one of the most important issues can be whether or not the law allows the court to impute additional income to the obligor parent for the purposes of calculating his support amount. One of the keys to imputing income is proving that the obligor is voluntarily underemployed or unemployed. In a potentially important new decision from the First District Court of Appeal, that court broke with the Fourth District Court of Appeal and decided that a judge could decline to enter an order of support when the obligor parent was soon to enter prison for two years.

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If you watch enough TV courtroom drama shows, you’ve likely seen it at some point. One of the lawyers will attempt to introduce some piece of evidence, and the other attorney will exclaim, “Objection! Hearsay!” While hearsay objections may be more commonly associated with criminal cases, they also take place in civil matters as well, including family law disputes. In a case recently before the Fourth District Court of Appeal, the hearsay rule and its exceptions were the key issue in deciding whether the wife had proper evidence to support her argument for imputing income to the husband. Since the appeals court decided that the wife’s evidence wasn’t admissible, that meant that the trial court order had to be reversed.

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Family law cases, like many varieties of litigation, can sometimes take unexpected turns. One such example was a case recently decided by the Fifth District Court of Appeal. In this case, a mother in a child support case lost her job after the final hearing but before the trial court issued its judgment. The appeals court upheld the trial court’s refusal to grant a motion to reopen the case, since granting that type of motion would prejudice the father too much and essentially require starting the case over from the beginning.The litigants in this case were a couple from Brevard County. They were in court to establish a parenting plan and child support. The parenting plan called for the father to have the children 2/3 of the time and the mother to receive 1/3 of the time. Based upon the timesharing, the parents’ incomes, and all of the other relevant factors, the trial court determined that the wife owed child support. In assessing the wife’s child support obligation, the court followed the child support guidelines based upon the mother’s income from her job.

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Child support cases, especially when you are facing contempt and possible jail time, are serious matters. There are many ways the courts can find you capable of making your child support payments, but there are other resources the law does not require you to deplete just to meet your support obligation. In one recent case from the Florida Panhandle, a father won a reversal of his contempt finding and jail sentence because, according to the First District Court of Appeal’s ruling, everything the trial court used to find that the man had willfully declined to pay his child support was either too small, had no evidence to support it, or was an asset the father was not legally obligated to liquidate just to pay his child support. The appeals court’s ruling is a useful reminder of the several ways that a parent who owes support can defend himself in a contempt case.

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