Family Law Lawyer discusses Common Child Support Mistakes
When going through a family law matter involving minor children, you will undoubtedly be faced with calculating child support. While child support in Florida is based upon a statutory formula, there are still some common mistakes made. If you have questions or concerns regarding a child support matter, it is important to contact a competent family law attorney to review your situation. A list of some common child support mistakes are outlined below.
1. Paying for expenses in lieu of child support payments.
Often parents believe that because they take care of common expenses for their child or children that these expenses will be credited towards child support. For example, a parent may purchase diapers or furniture or simply provide cash to help support the minor child or children. Unfortunately, courts will often consider these items a gift and will not give the parent credit. When paying child support it is imperative that the monthly support be designated as child support. If you are paying child support directly to your spouse, be sure to place “child support” in the memo line of the check or money order, so that there is no dispute as to whether you should receive credit for the payment.
2. Not Keeping Proof of Payment.
This should seem fairly obvious, however, we often see this arise in divorce and paternity matters. Although you may think that you can trust your spouse to acknowledge the support that was paid, once litigation begins, things often change. It is important to keep a file documenting all child support that was paid, so that you receive credit towards any child support arrearage.
3. Not getting credit for child care or insurance expenses.
In the calculation of child support in Florida, the child support formula accounts for child care and insurance expenses for the minor child or children. Overlooking these items can drastically change the child support amounts. To ensure that you receive proper credit for the health insurance payments, call your Human Resources department and request a breakdown of your insurance premiums showing the amount paid towards your health insurance and the amount paid towards the health insurance for your child or children. Often, there is one additional flat monthly fee for dependents. For example, health insurance may cost you $100 per month and it may be an additional $150 for your spouse and children. Typically, you will receive credit for the $150 as the amount does not fluctuate when you have one or multiple dependents. Additionally, it is important that you consider the costs of child care. This may include the cost of daycare, afterschool care, or possibly the use of a third party caregiver depending on the circumstances. The monthly cost of child care should be provided to your attorney, so that you receive credit for the amount paid when calculating your monthly child support obligation.
4. Overlooking the cost of extracurricular activities and uncovered medical expenses.
In addition to child support, a parenting plan will typically include a provision that extracurricular activities and uncovered medical expenses are shared by the parents on a percentage basis. It is imperative to understand that this financial obligation is in addition to child support. The specific wording of these paragraphs is also very important. For example, if the parties mutually agree that the Husband pays for all extracurricular activities, it is important that the parties either specifically state the extracurricular activities to be paid or have a provision that only agreed upon extracurricular activities will be paid for by the Husband. Although this may seem like a minor provision of a parenting plan, the financial impact of extracurricular activities is often understated. For example, if your child decides that he or she wants to take up horseback riding, this could potentially cost you thousands of dollar per month. Another common dispute over extracurricular activities arises when children join traveling sports teams, which are often costly. As a parent, you of course want the best for your children, but you also need to ensure that your agreement allows you to have control over your finances and how you pay for these types of expenses.
5. Not modifying child support immediately when income substantially decreases.
If you have a substantial decrease in income, your child support payments will not automatically decrease or stop. In Florida, you must file for a Petition for Modification of child support in order to reduce your child support obligation after a loss of or decrease in wages. Often a party will wait to seek a modification in an attempt to find alternative employment. Although this makes sense logically, it can often lead to a large child support arrearage as a Judge can only modify the child support back to the date of filing of the Petition for Modification. For example, if you lose your job in January and wait until July to file a Petition for Modification, the Judge only has the authority to adjust the child support beginning in July, which means you will still be liable for the child support owed from January through July, even though you were unemployed. If you have a substantial change in your income it is important to file a petition to modify the child support as soon as possible to preserve your ability to have the Judge award a retroactive adjustment. Additionally, it may help prevent you from being held in contempt of court or face sanctions for failing to pay the previously ordered amount.