Category Archives: Child Support

Yes, Virginia, there is Legal Separation in Florida

It goes by a couple of weird names (like “legally separate maintenance” or “support unconnected with dissolution”), but Legal Separation does exist in Florida.  I get so mad because I hear all the time, not only from clients but from other lawyers, about how Florida doesn’t have legal separation.  I was even at a family law Continuing Legal Education seminar a couple of months ago where a lawyer proudly pronounced that she had developed some techniques for obtaining alimony and child support in Florida where, “as we all know, there is no legal separation.”  It’s just not true.

I do have to admit that filing for legal separation is rare.  For one thing, if one spouse files for separation (which is basically saying, “I don’t want to divorce you, but I want you to pay me alimony and/or child support”), that other spouse normally just counterclaims for divorce.

But there are good reasons for filing legal separation as opposed to divorce.  The obvious one is that one spouse may want to move out, yet still take time to work on the marriage.  If the moving spouse can’t afford to live on his or her own while the couple attends counseling (or does whatever they need to do to work on the marriage), the court can set up temporary alimony or support for the interim.

And there are legal reason not to divorce, too, like collecting a spouse’s social security credits or remaining on a spouse’s health insurance.

The other upside to separation as opposed to divorce is that filing separation has no residency requirement in Florida.  Remember, you have to be a Florida resident for six months before you can file divorce here.  But you can move to Florida and file for legal separation the next day.   That way, you could start collecting alimony or child support and convert your legal separation case to a divorce case after you’ve lived in Florida for six months.

So not only does legal separation exist in Florida, it’s downright useful in a lot of circumstances.  Give us a call or send an email if you want to know more.

Reduce child support (or at least reduce the consequences of failure to pay)

The St. Petersburg Times report a few months ago that filings to reduce child support in the Tampa courthouse almost doubled between 2005 and 2008 (the 2009 numbers aren’t in yet). In the St. Petersburg/Clearwater courthouses, the number of filings tripled, and in the county north of Clearwater, the filing went up fivefold. The state’s collection rate in that time period went down from 72% to 67% in that same time period.

Nothing about this is surprising. I’ve seen articles about this happening in cities throughout the country for at least a year. A more interesting statistic might be how much collection case filings have increased. The saddest thing is that, when a payor falls behind by more than $2500, that payor’s driver’s license could be suspended. Then, of course, as the article mentions, the payor can’t get to work or find a new job, and child support falls further behind.

It’s possible that this can be avoided, or at least the consequences of failing to pay can be reduced.

Too many payors wait until they fall behind or receive a notice of enforcement or contempt before they do anything. By then, it’s usually too late. Immediately upon a pay reduction or job loss, a payor should seek modification of child support. Child support can even be abated (temporarily stopped) when a job loss occurs in certain situations.

So, the trick is not to wait. Call a lawyer (you’ve heard me say this a million times) right away when your job situation changes. Don’t wait until it’s too late. A jail cell is a bad place to negotiate your case from, especially when child support should have been adjusted long ago when the job loss occurred.

Calculating child support in Florida

Calculating child support in Florida is pretty easy, especially with some of the online tools available. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you calculate your own support:

1. Calculate your net incomes

The first step in figuring out Florida child support is to calculate the net incomes of both parents. This is easy if you’ve both completed financial affidavits: net income will be on page two. (Page three on the long form, not including the instruction page.  The long form is for people who make over $50,000 annually.)  If you haven’t completed the affidavits yet, you’ll have to figure net income out yourself. But that’s pretty easy. The best way is to look on a pay stub. Net income is your after-tax income. Since you’re probably not paid on a monthly basis, you’ll have to do a little math. Everything on the child support guidelines in Florida is done on a monthly basis. If you’re paid weekly, look at your weekly net (after tax) income and multiply it by 4.33. If you’re paid twice a month, look at your after-tax income on your pay stub and multiply the amount by 2.15. Don’t forget to include bonuses and average overtime in your net income. It all counts under Florida law! If you are self-employed or you don’t have a pay stub, you can use last year’s total net income from your tax return and divide it by 12.

2. Determine childcare and health insurance amounts, if any

The second thing to know is how much childcare and health insurance costs are. It doesn’t matter who pays it. We’ll get to that later. Just know that these two amounts–if they exist in your case–get calculated into child support. Remember also that you’ll have to know these as monthly amounts. So if, for instance, daycare or aftercare gets paid weekly, you’ll have to multiply the amount by 4.33 to figure out what the monthly childcare cost is. Some things count as childcare and some things don’t. The law says a childcare is a childcare payment if it is the equivalent of a daycare. After school karate class where the kids are taken when school ends counts as childcare under the law. It would be the “equivalent of a daycare.” Babysitting by grandma while you go to the movies doesn’t count. That’s not daycare, even if grandma gets paid.

3. Determine your amount of timeshare (visitation)

If one of the parents has more than 20% of the overnights (about 73 overnights in a calendar year), then the guidelines change substantially, and the amount of money paid by the minority timeshare (noncustodial) parent to the majority timeshare (custodial) parent decreases significantly. If the minority timeshare parent has the child or children more than 20% of the overnights in the calendar year, determine what the percentage will be by counting the number of overnights and doing the math. For instance, as said before, 73 nights is a 20% timeshare. In a standard “week on/week off” schedule, each parent would have the kids for 50% of the timeshare. You must determine the exact percentage of overnights if the percentage will be 20% or over.

4. Calculate the amount of support

Once you know all the numbers from the steps above, you are ready to calculate the guidelines child support. Actually, this is the easy part:

Download the free form 12.902(e) from Plug in all the numbers we’ve calculated in steps 1-3 and insert them into the proper boxes in the form. Follow the instructions and use the included grid to find the child support amount. If step three above didn’t apply to you, then skip lines 10 through 21 on the form.  That’s all there is to it!