GUIDELINES / FORMULA
Florida Statute §61.30– Child support follows specific guidelines that have been set forth by the Florida legislature. Florida Statute §61.30 provides these guidelines. The amounts provided in this statue basically take both parties’ respective income levels into consideration along with the amount of overnights that coincide with the time-sharing schedule.
What is considered income – The court takes both parties net income levels into consideration when factoring the child support amounts. Therefore, in order to arrive at accurate figures, the court will consider a party’s income level after deducting the taxes and certain other deductions like individual health insurance premiums and mandatory retirement. Income includes regular pay, bonuses, overtime, in-kind income (expenses paid by an employer), etc.
Unemployed party – If, however, a parent is not currently employed, the court is still able to impute (project) that parent to a certain income level whether that party is working or not. For example, let’s say that a party decides to stop working and quits his/her job just to punish the other parent and escape his/her legal obligation for support. Since this is a voluntary act, the court will assume that the parent is still employed at the same income rate and will make a ruling that the child support is being based on the same figure that the parent was recently earning, whether that parent sits home and decides not to work at all. Also, if that parent tries to get themselves fired by showing up late to work or insulting their boss, under the law, a violation of company protocol will have the same effect as if the party simply quit their job. This means that the judge can impute (project) that party to their previous income level. The whole question becomes whether a parent’s unemployment is voluntary or not. This becomes a factual question, which is what the judge will determine at the time of the hearing (temporary relief and/or trial).
Underemployment – Alternatively, let’s say a parent has been out of work for a while, was laid off due to budget issues or some other reason outside that parent’s control or is currently employed but is making far less than he or she is accustomed to earning. A court could still impute (project) that parent to a higher income level only with competent substantial evidence proving what income level that should be. This means that the court could not guess at this amount. However, on the court’s own, the judge could only impute that parent to the minimum wage without any expert testimony. In most cases, however, this projection would not be sufficient given the low amount of the minimum wage. In order for the court to make a decision based on competent substantial evidence, it would need credible evidence that the parent is capable of making a certain income level. It is not, however, enough for the judge to simply look at the party and for the judge to make an educated decision on how much that person is capable of making based on the judge’s own understanding of the economy and what the judge thinks is a fair imputation/projection. An actual expert would have to be retained to evaluate the party based on their education, work experience, and the current job market and make a projection based on actual available work out there in the general vicinity.
How income is figured when a parent is self-employed – Let’s say that the parent is self-employed. This presents a whole other issue and is often very costly to properly evaluate. When people are self-employed, it is very difficult to make a determination of how much that party actually earns. Often some people manipulate their income figures when they report them to the IRS in the first place, so the figures reported on their income taxes may not always be reliable or accurate. Others, get to write off vehicles, gasoline, and other expenses as legitimate business expenses, but in family law, the legislature specifically stated that those expenses should be included and treated as income, which directly impacts the child support (and alimony) amount(s). It therefore may become necessary to retain a forensic accountant to review these business records in order to ascertain the correct value. Otherwise, you would be extremely limited in trying to prove your case.
How income is determined if a party is unable to work due to a disability – Let’s say a party is not working do to an alleged injury or other medical condition. A different expert would have to be retained to evaluate that party in order to confirm whether they are in fact unable to work and make a determination of what, if anything, is wrong with them. This ex-pert is typically a medical professional.