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Florida Law - When Can Child Support Awards Be Modified?

One of the most common issues I deal with daily as a family law practitioner is the modification of child support. Yet, surprisingly, most divorced parents incurring either end of a child support obligation are in the dark about what circumstances may subject them to a modification.

Child support awards may typically be modified when, under the law and in the court's eyes, a "substantial change in circumstances" takes place. The legislature, and therefore the courts, deems that a substantial change has occurred whenever there is a significant change in income or financial ability of either party, when health insurance becomes available, or when a child is emancipated. An increase or decrease in income for either party will offset the child support equation, thereby increasing or decreasing the child support obligation. Termination of a party's employment which has taken place without fault may be grounds for a modification of child support.

In order for the court to find that a substantial change in circumstances warranting a modification has taken place, the amount provided for under the Child Support Guidelines must be at least a 15% difference (or $50.00 per month, whichever is greater) from the amount previously ordered.

The change should be one that was not recognized during the earlier proceedings and it should be long-term and/or continuing in nature. A one time bonus, judgment, award, or prize, for example, is not "continuing" in nature and therefore cannot affect long term net income.

If the paying spouse remarries and the new spouse has children, or the new couple has another child, the effect of that child on the parties' finances will not be considered.

All of this comes together as follows, taking the statutory minimum change (15% or $50) into consideration:

  • If the paying spouse sustains an increase in income, his/her proportionate share of the child support equation, and thus the payment, may be increased. The converse effect would result from a decrease in the paying spouse's income.
  • If the non-paying spouse sustains an increase in income, the paying spouse's proportionate share of the child support equation, and thus the payment, may be decreased. The converse effect would result fro a decrease in the non-paying spouse's income.
  • Because health insurance and the cost of child care and babysitting are included as part of the child support equation, changes in these expenses (i.e. non-paying spouse incurring new after care expenses or health insurance premium) will have a direct effect on the child support equation and may also warrant a modification.

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Florida requires an equitable distribution of the marital property (what is fair, not necessarily equal). Each spouse keeps the property and debts that belonged to them before the marriage. Each spouse also keeps any property received as a gift or inheritance, or any property that the spouses agree to divide in a written agreement. Any property that was acquired before the spouses married or that was received as a gift or inheritance is not considered marital property. If the spouses cannot come to an agreement, a court will divide the property and the debt.
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