Under Florida law, child support is always subject to modification—in fact, it cannot be designated as “nonmodifiable.” This includes child support ordered from a previous divorce, a paternity action or a support order established by the Florida Department of Revenue.
If there is a prior order in place, a parent, or in some instances the Department of Revenue, may file for a modification if there is a substantial change in circumstances. A change in circumstances can result from many things, but to modify child support the change must be “sufficient, material, involuntary and permanent in nature” and significantly impact the support obligation.
The most common reason for a parent to seek a modification of child support—temporarily or permanently—is an income change. For example, a realtor who is a child-support payor could experience a change in circumstances that is sufficient to support a reduction of his or her child support obligation for these reasons:
- There is a substantial, involuntary and permanent decrease in income due to a slump in the real estate market that was outside of his or her control.
- The future of the real estate market and the payor’s economic recovery are unlikely or even unknown.
A parent suffering an injury that impacts the parent’s ability to work, but from which he or she is expected to recover, would likely entitle the injured parent to a temporary modification or suspension of the child support obligation during the time reasonable necessary for the parent to reestablish himself or herself. Likewise, a temporary job loss as a result of COVID-19 may result in a temporary modification or suspension of the child support obligation.
Under Florida law, a difference of only $50 or 15 percent—whichever is greater—from the previously ordered obligation can be deemed by a court to be sufficient to support a modification of child support.
Permanency is a change that is not temporary and is in place for an extended period of time. Although a permanent change in economic circumstances is generally required for a downward modification, a temporary change may result in an adjustment, even if it is for a limited amount of time. A loss in income, such as from a strike or a recent loss of employment, when recovery of the prior level of income is expected, is not likely to warrant a permanent modification, but it may support a temporary modification or suspension of the child support obligation.
An income increase may also be the basis for a modification, but an income increase alone will not always result in a modification.
Generally, the child support obligation should be proportionate to the parents’ earnings. However, the court is required to consider the parents’ entire financial circumstances. For example, if one parent’s income has increased significantly since the order, but that parent’s expenses have also increased as a result of a remarriage that produced additional children, it may not result in an increase of the child-support obligation. In this example, the children of his first marriage are being supported as well as the children from the second marriage and there is no evidence that the children’s needs from the first marriage are not being met under the current child support obligation. Under these circumstances, the increased income may not be sufficient to justify a modification of the child support obligation.
Although changes in income are the most frequent basis for modification, other substantial changes also can support child-support modification. Here are some examples:
- Daycare expenses are factored into the child support amount and the child no longer attends daycare.
- There has been an increase or decrease in the cost of the child’s medical insurance premiums.
- A child is diagnosed with special needs or a medical condition that will require additional or different educational or medical expenses resulting from the diagnosis.
- A person will remain dependent because of a mental or physical incapacity that began prior to the person reaching majority.
- Changes in the child’s overnight schedule such as a parent’s failure to exercise the agreed upon or court ordered timesharing schedule.
Once you have proven a substantial change in circumstances, you must then prove to the court that a change in child support is in the child’s best interests.
If you believe there has been a substantial change in circumstances that would serve as a basis for a modification of child support, it is important to file for that modification as soon as possible. In most instances, the court is only permitted to grant the change retroactively to the date of filing.
At Nicole L. Goetz, P.L. we have the knowledge and experience to guide you through the divorce process from start to finish, including all elements of child support modification. If you have questions, would like to receive more information, or need a family attorney in Naples to assist you during this difficult and often complicated process, please call our office in Naples, Florida at 239-325-5030 to schedule a confidential consultation with our attorneys.
The information provided on law and legal topics is designed for general information only and does not constitute nor should it be considered legal advice. It is not a substitute nor should it be considered a substitute for legal advice from a qualified attorney knowledgeable about your specific factual situation.