Q: I am paying child support for my three children. One of my children turns 18 soon and I plan on reducing my payment by one-third. My ex-spouse tells me I have to go to court to do that. Can’t I not automatically reduce the payment?
A: Child support in Florida is generally determined in accordance with the child support guidelines at Section 61.30 of Florida Statutes. The guidelines combine the net income of both parents and, establish a guideline amount of child support for that income and the number of children. The paying parent pays the percentage of the guideline amount equal to that parent’s percentage of the total net income of the parents. The guidelines also provide for other adjustments including special needs and where children spend a considerable amount of time with the paying parent.
Child support is not always awarded in strict conformity with the guidelines. Reasonable child support can be agreed upon by the parents. Agreement can include an obligation to pay child support or college expense beyond the time legal obligation to support would otherwise end. If the court adopts the agreement as part of the final judgment, it can be enforced as a court order.
A parent is not legally bound to support a child beyond the age of 18, unless the child is disabled or dependent. The court can order child support continue until the child graduates from high school, if the child would graduate before turning 19 years of age. Child support obligation may also end if the child becomes self supporting or married. If the judgment or child support order does not provide for automatic termination when a child becomes self supporting or married, the parent must go back to court for a judicial determination.
When child support is awarded for multiple children, wording of the award determines action needed to terminate support. If child support is set at a dollar amount per child, the paying parent may automatically stop paying support for that child when the child reaches the age or status of termination as set by the judgment. If the award is a lump sum, the paying parent must apply to the court for a reduction.
Although the reduction can be retroactive, it is not retroactive beyond the date of filing the request for reduction. Moreover, the guidelines do not provide for a pro-rata reduction on a per child basis.
The court’s decision on a request to reduce child support because one child has turned 18 can disappoint the paying parent. The guidelines do not provide a child support increase equally as children are added. The guidelines recognize that certain expenses of raising one child (housing for example) do not double when a second child is added. Accordingly, reduction in child support from three children to two children under the guidelines is not one-third. It is actually about 20 percent. If the paying parent’s income has increased since time of the original support order, the guideline amount will also increase. In some cases, this can result in an increase in child support, even though less children are being supported.
This area can be complex, because so many factors affect the outcome. I suggest you discuss your case with an experienced attorney before proceeding further and certainly before your oldest child turns 18.
William G. Morris is an attorney with offices at 247 North Collier Boulevard on Marco Island, Florida. His practice covers a broad range of subjects, including civil litigation, real estate, business and corporate law, estate planning and probate, domestic relations and contracts. He writes this column periodically with respect to legal matters that frequently affect non-lawyers. The information contained in this column is not intended as legal advice and, of necessity, is generalized. For questions about specific circumstances, the reader should consult a qualified attorney. Questions for this column can be sent to: William G. Morris, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax, (239) 642-0722.