Florida Court Discusses Deviation from Child Support Guidelines

In Florida child support cases, the courts typically refer to statutory guidelines to determine what constitutes an appropriate obligation. While the courts are permitted to deviate from the guidelines, if they do so, they generally must demonstrate that the deviation is warranted. In a recent Florida opinion issued in a child support matter, the court discussed what constitutes appropriate grounds for a deviation. If you have questions about what steps you can take to protect your interests in a child support case, it is advisable to speak with a Miami child support attorney as soon as possible.

History of the Case

It is reported that the mother filed a lawsuit seeking to establish sought to ascertain paternity. She also requested child support and other relief. The father responded pro se to the petition but did not file a counterpetition. After a DNA test confirmed the father’s biological paternity, the trial court issued a final judgment establishing his legal and biological paternity and ordered him to pay child support. The mother appealed on the grounds that the child support obligation was less than half of the amount recommended under the statutory guidelines.

Deviation from Child Support Guidelines

On appeal, the court reversed the child support ruling, noting that the trial court did not cite sufficient reasons for deviation. While the child support guidelines are clearly rebuttable, if a court deviates more than five percent from them, it must set forth either in writing or on the record why an award that aligned with the guideline amount would be inappropriate or unjust.

Here, the court explained that the trial court justified the deviation from guideline child support by considering the evidence presented and the child’s actual needs. Specifically, the court noted the infrequent interaction between the child and the father, as well as the mother’s capability to meet the child’s needs without daycare expenses. In sum, in awarding child support below the statutory guidelines, the trial court aimed to achieve an equitable result.

The court found the court’s reasons for deviation were legally inadequate, however. Namely, the trial court’s written findings did not satisfactorily explain the more than five percent variation from the guidelines, as required by law. Further, the father’s limited involvement in the child’s life and the mother’s ability to provide the child’s basic needs were not justifiable grounds for reducing child support. As such, the court reversed the trial court ruling.

Confer with a Seasoned Miami Attorney

The Florida courts typically rely on statutory guidelines when making child support determinations, and any deviations from the guidelines should be well-substantiated. If you are faced with a child support dispute, it is in your best interest to confer with an attorney about your rights. The seasoned Miami family law lawyers of the Law Offices of Sandy T. Fox, P.A., take pride in helping people seek just outcomes in child support disputes, and if you hire us, we will advocate aggressively on your behalf. You can contact us through our online form or at 800-596-0579 to set up a meeting.