In Florida, both parents are legally obligated to provide support for their minor child or children.   The purpose of child support is to ensure that the child’s basic needs for food, clothing and shelter are met and, additionally, to allow the child to share in the wealth and good fortune of the parent’s.

Establishment

Child support is established based upon a formula, which takes into account the net income of both parents, and certain specified expenses including but not limited to the health insurance premiums being paid for both the parents and the children, and the daycare costs, if any, for the child or children. In addition, the formula also takes into consideration the number of over-nights the child or children spend with each parent. If the parent with less time has at least 73 overnights each year, then the amount of time-sharing will be included in the calculation of child support and will force an adjustment to the child support obligation. This reduction in child support is based upon the consideration that both parents will need to provide food, clothing and shelter for the child or children while they are in that parent’s care.

At the time when child support is initially established, retroactive support may be established for the time period between the date the parents separated and the date that the child support order goes into effect. Or, if the parties separated more than twenty-four months prior to the filing of the action requesting child support, retroactive support may be established for a period starting twenty-four months prior to the date of filing through the date the child support obligation becomes effective.

Modification

Child support can be modified at any time based upon a showing of a substantial, permanent and unanticipated change in circumstances. What constitutes a substantial change in circumstances includes but is not limited to, the loss of a job, the termination of the child’s attendance at daycare, the disability of a parent, an increase in the costs of health insurance or daycare, or a substantial increase or decrease (15% or greater) in either parent’s income. Further, a permanent change is one that has lasted or is anticipated to last for one year or more.

Generally, a modification can only be effective as of the date of filing of the action for modification. Therefore, any arrears that accrued due to non-payment of child support after the loss of a job but before the modification action was filed will remain due and owing. However, there is one exception to the general rule that child support cannot be modified retroactively. If child support was established based upon both parents exercising substantial time-sharing with the minor child or children and one parent stops exercising that time sharing, child support may be modified retroactively to the date when that parent stopped exercising his or her time-sharing.

Arrears and enforcement

There are a number of enforcement mechanisms for child support orders including contempt of court, suspension of the obligor’s driver’s license, and the placement of a lien on the obligor’s property. The Florida Department of Revenue and it’s sister agencies in other states have additional enforcement mechanisms including suspension of the obligor’s passport, and seizure of the obligor’s bank account.

In addition, the Clerk of Court will enter a judgment by operation of law on arrears that have accrued when child support is payable through the State Disbursement Unit and the Clerk of Court. Once such a judgment is entered, interest begins to accrue. Therefore it is best to make child support payments in a timely manner whenever possible.

Further, there is no statute of limitations on the enforcement of child support and child support arrears. Therefore, child support can be enforced after the children emancipate, and even against the estate of the obligor after the death of the obligor.

The one exception to the rule that child support arrears can be enforced at any time arises when the obligor can prove laches or equitable estoppel. This means that the obligor must show that he or she had a reasonable belief that the other parent would not seek to enforce the child support arrears and that the obligor parent would be harmed should the other parent enforce the arrears. This can frequently be proven where the parents entered into an oral agreement reducing the obligor parent’s child support obligation or exchanging items such as a vehicle or payment of certain expenses for the child in lieu of payment of child support.