At the close of Florida’s 2010 legislative session, a comprehensive bill aimed at revamping the state’s child support and alimony schemes was passed. The new changes did not go into effect immediately, however. Instead, target dates were set, determining when each set of updates to the family law code would take effect. The alimony provisions and certain aspects of the child support statute have already been tested to an extent: they went into effect in July and October of 2010, respectively. However, several significant changes to Florida’s child support guidelines only took hold on January 1, 2011. For anyone affected by the state’s child support system, understanding the recent additions to the law is essential in order to know what to expect in the new year.
The New Law’s Effect on Future Cases
One aspect of the newly modified Florida child support system will change the way settlements or final court judgements are drafted for many families. Now, it will be a requirement that such instruments include the child support guidelines amount along with any remaining child support payable after the age of 18 (for families with more than one child, at least). Of course, the comparative income of the parents determines the initial amount of support. But, under the new law, the exact date of future reductions has to be stated (for example, a reduction or termination after the child reaches a certain age). This should alleviate the need for excessive modification petitions. Even though such reductions will be automatic, parents who find their financial circumstances in flux need not be worried: while the new law is hoped to lower the need for modification petitions, a court can still be asked to raise or lower support amounts for good cause.
How You May Now Qualify for Reduced Payments
There are other provisions of the new law that will primarily have an impact on child support cases decided in the future: the new allowance for automatic imputation of income (basically meaning that a non-cooperative parent can be assumed by the court to be making the median amount, or more if evidence proves that parent could be earning higher amounts) and modest changes to the support guidelines schedule for low-income parents, to name a few. But what about those who have already been through the child support process in court and are participating in an ongoing support arrangement? The new law establishes a policy that could mean drastically reduced child support payments for many such parents.
As of January 1, 2011, the law requires a departure from standard child support in all instances where the parent with fewer overnights has the child overnight 20 percent or more of the time. When a child is with the non-custodial parent overnight for more than 20 percent of the time, a tiered structure modifies the calculation of child support to account for time spent with that parent. So why is this provision significant? Under the old law, such an adjustment was a possibility. However, the parent with fewer overnights overall had to have at least 40 percent of the overnights to qualify. Suppose one parent has their child every other weekend for 3 overnights, in addition to a few more nights here and there, a very typical time-sharing schedule. That would add up to about 100 overnights a year, or just over 27 percent. Under the old scheme, this parent would not have qualified for modified support payments. But, by cutting the requirement from 40 to 20 percent, thousands of parents will now be able to meet the threshold, resulting in drastically reduced support.
What to Do If You May Be Impacted
If you believe that you may be entitled to lower child support payments under the new law, or have any other concerns about your child support arrangement, a prudent first step is to get in touch with an experienced attorney. Your attorney will explain how your individual circumstances may be affected by the tweaks to Florida’s child support law, and will act on your behalf to secure a more equitable child support plan. With the proper legal assistance, Florida’s new law could help you on your way to savings in 2011.