Child support is one of the most important factors to determine whenever parents end their relationship. It ensures that the child continues to have the quality of life they deserve, regardless of their parents’ relationship status.
There is often the assumption that child support is only awarded in situations where there is one parent with primary custody. But what about other forms of custody arrangement? Many parents are committed to sharing custody to some extent. So, is child support still paid with joint custody? The simple answer is that it depends on a variety of factors. The type of joint custody arrangement, income, time sharing and other elements contribute to what financial obligations each parent has.
It can certainly be a complex situation. This makes it particularly vital to seek the advice of an experienced Florida family law attorney if you’re facing difficulties in this area. In the meantime, we’re going to explore some of the things that influence whether child support is still paid with joint custody.
What Should You Understand About Joint Custody?
The first thing to consider is that the term “joint custody” can be quite a slippery idea. When people use it, there’s the assumption that both parents spend equal amounts of time with their children. This would seem to make questions around child support moot. But this isn’t quite the case.
Rather, in Florida family law, joint custody tends to be broken down into two primary categories: joint legal custody and joint physical custody. Each of these can affect issues surrounding child support, so we’re going to take a brief look at what the definitions mean.
Joint legal custody
Joint legal custody in Florida tends to refer to the overall shared responsibilities of both parents. Effectively, this definition states that each party has equal authority over any key decisions about the child’s care. This includes where they go to school, healthcare decision-making, spiritual or cultural elements, and their overall quality of life. Joint legal custody is effectively a form of administrative sharing. The child may not spend equal amounts of time with each parent, but the arrangement ensures that both have relatively equal influence over the child’s life. In many ways, this is to promote a form of collaborative parenting. It’s an especially important option if it isn’t practical for the parents to share physical custody but both still wish to be meaningfully involved in the child’s life.
Joint physical custody
Joint physical custody is what many people would think of when they hear the term “joint custody.” There tends to be a more equitable division of time that the child spends living in each parent’s household. This may involve changing residences every other week, or if one parent lives further away, the child might spend part of the year in one place before switching to the other. Joint physical custody doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a strict 50/50 division of time, though. Rather, it’s a commitment to aim for equal contact in a meaningful way, even if the exact split of this might fluctuate over time.
Understanding these distinctions between joint legal and joint physical custody is crucial for parents navigating what can feel like a quite complex custody approach in Florida. Each definition supports the idea of shared responsibilities between parents. However, in each there is also potential for one parent to be shouldering more of the financial burden than the other. This means that there can still be child support payments.
What Are the Factors That Can Affect Joint Custody Support?
So, we’ve shown that joint custody doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s no requirement for child support. From here, you should bear in mind that there are still various factors that could influence whether and how much support could be awarded.
Some of these include:
The Florida child support guidelines
The Florida child support guidelines are the primary basis for determining child support amounts, no matter what the circumstances are. The state has opted to base its guidelines on the Income Shares Model of support. What does this mean? Well, effectively it’s a model that is built on the concept that the child should benefit from the same amount of resources as they would if their parents hadn’t separated. It assumes that were the parents together, the joint income would be pooled and the child’s needs met by this pool.
Both parents’ income is combined.
A statutory amount of basic child support is determined based on this joint income, alongside additional expenses.
The child support amount is prorated to the percentage of the joint income each parent has.
If the joint custody arrangement finds either parent providing less than their required share of child support obligations toward the child’s care, the courts may rule that they must commit to supplying the remainder.
The time-sharing arrangement is an important element of determining child support obligations. The Florida family courts will look at the number of overnights the child spends with each parent. This can certainly come into play in joint custody scenarios. In joint legal custody, there may be an equal division of authority and responsibility yet an unequal division of overnights. Similarly, in joint physical custody, because there may not be a completely equal division of time, the child might be spending more nights with one parent than the other.
Therefore a summary of the process outlined in the Florida Statutes runs as follows:
The courts take the basic child support obligation (as outlined in the previous section) of the parent with fewer overnights.
The courts calculate the percentage of time sharing each parent has.
The courts multiply the parents’ basic child support obligation by 1.5
The new child support obligation is split by the percentage of time sharing each parent has.
The parent with less physical custody must pay the difference between these two amounts to the other parent.
There are times when income disparities also factor into joint custody child support obligations. As previously outlined, Florida’s Income Shares model aims to ensure the child still gets the same resources as if their parents were together. Therefore, if one parent earns more than the other, there can be circumstances in which the higher-earning parent must make contributions to the lower-earning parent. This helps to ascertain that a consistent quality of life is achieved no matter what household the child is overnighting in. It also means that a lower-earning parent isn’t experiencing an unfair amount of financial strain.
When Might there Be Deviations from Standard Child Support?
In general, Florida courts follow the usual guidelines when determining child support, even in joint custody cases. Nevertheless there may also be instances where courts choose to deviate from these guidelines. This is usually when the standard guidelines don’t appropriately meet the needs of specific families or accurately represent the circumstances of a case. When such deviations are applied, the aim is still always to act in the child’s best interests.
Some of the reasons for deviation may include:
Extraordinary expenses. The Florida family courts might consider additional expenses beyond those used in the standard calculation. These must be related to the child’s quality of life needs. For instance, medical care, education, or extracurricular activities can all factor into payment calculations.
Extreme asset disparities. The Florida child support guidelines consider most common income thresholds and scenarios, but this doesn’t always cover the value of other assets. One parent might have financial or physical assets beyond their income that might result in significant quality of life differences depending on where the child overnights. Additional contributions to result in a more equal and consistent quality of life can be something the courts consider when determining child support in joint custody cases.
There can certainly be other situations that result in deviations from the standard child support guidelines in joint custody cases. The courts will usually take these on a case-by-case basis. The nuanced elements and complex nature of these cases make it particularly vital to collaborate with an experienced family law attorney. They can help to ensure that all relevant factors are taken into account and a realistic representation of both income and quality of life is submitted to the court. As a result, you have a better chance of reaching a fair result for you and your child.
Call The Family Law Attorneys Men Trust (813) 415-3510
In Law We Trust Divorce and Family Lawyers is a premier firm of divorce lawyers representing men in family law proceedings. We have years of experience representing men who are navigating child support challenges, including in joint custody situations. Our team’s experience and skills help to guide our clients through the hurdles of the Florida family law courts. Call us today and get the proper representation men need and deserve.
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