Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law
In Florida, child support terminates upon one of the following occurring:
1. Graduates from high school by his/her 19th birthday;
3. Joins the military; or
4. Becomes emancipated.
Florida previously required a parent, normally the parent responsibility for child support, to modify the child support in accordance with the oldest child reaching one of these criteria. So, when a child turned 18 and graduated from high school, if there was an income deduction order in place or child support was paid through the State, then it continued until the paying party actually petitioned the court to terminate the obligation.
In recent years, the Florida legislature has addressed this issue to provide a child support step-down when there are multiple children or to terminate at a certain date when there is only one child. The courts have recently been divided on what it means to step-down child support once a termination issue exists. The question has been whether child support should be calculated based on the child support calculation or be a pro rata step-down based on the number of children.
An example of child support being recalculated for the number of children is as follows: Mom and Dad have two children. Child One is born August 1, 2000 and Child Two is born August 1, 2002. Mom has majority time-sharing with the children and Dad is going to pay child support for two kids based on the child support calculation. If Mom makes $4,000 per month and Dad makes $4,000 per month and neither provide daycare or have health insurance costs for the children, then Dad will pay Mom about $660 per month. Once the child support for child one terminates, Dad will pay Mom, based on the calculation, about $440 per month.
The following is an example of the pro rata deduction: Same as above, but upon the child support termination of Child 1, the child support would actually be calculated for a step-down as $660 ÷ 2 (number of children). Therefore, Dad would pay Mom $330 per month and Mom would need to modify later if she felt it necessary. Therefore, the obligation to modify then falls on the party receiving child support instead of the party obligated to pay support.
While there are courts divided, the Florida Supreme Court has not yet ruled as to which is the correct method to be applied. Therefore, it depends on which jurisdiction or court area you reside in to determine what type of step-down is correct for your child support order.
If you reside in the Jacksonville area, then the pro rata share order ultimately controls. The order regarding child support needs to be written in a way to show the figures for child support and what the termination date is for each child. If there is an income deduction order or income withholding order entered in your case, then it should also state this language so that the payor’s employer is aware of the date of change. You should speak with an experienced family law attorney in your area to better understand your rights and options.