Failure to Use Most Recent Salary Bonus Figure Leads Florida Appeals Court to Reverse Alimony, Child Support Calculations

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.

Sometimes, though, unlike that case from March, the amount fluctuates from year to year. When that happens, the bonus still needs to be included in the calculation, but it must “reflect current reality.” That means that the court should use the most recent year’s bonus amount. In Matthew’s case, the trial court used his 2013 bonus of $133,332, even though the husband presented unrefuted evidence that his 2014 bonus was $45,000. With that evidence on the record, the trial court should have calculated the husband’s income to be $8,476 plus $3,750 in bonus income (as reflected by the 2014 bonus), instead of $8,476 plus more than $11,100 per month (based upon the 2013 bonus).

Obtaining a current figure is very important because the law only demands that a supporting spouse or parent pay based upon his current ability to pay, which means “his current income (or income expected in the immediate future).”

In a scenario like this, it is also important, as the supporting spouse or parent, to prove that the reduction in income was no anomaly. Matthew had proof that his 2014 bonus fell dramatically due to a string of accounts his firm lost in 2011-13 and that his bonus was unlikely to increase much (from the 2014 amount) in the upcoming years.

Whether you are litigating alimony or child support, it is important to have skilled counsel on your side to work toward a fair and just outcome. The knowledgeable South Florida alimony attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have been helping people with child support and alimony issues for many years. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

What Florida Law Does (and Doesn’t) Require You to Do to Meet Your Child Support Obligations, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Jan. 12, 2017

How Disability Benefits Can Affect a Florida Alimony Case, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 14, 2016