Florida's Child Support guidelines: Establishing the amount

Issue:

Child support is established by looking at the parents’ respective net incomes and factoring in health insurance premiums, day/ after care incidental to employment or an educational pursuit, and any specialized need(s) of the minor child(ren). The amount of time sharing between a parent and child(ren) is also a factor to be considered. What if a parent is not working? Does he/ she still have an obligation to pay support and, if so, how do you establish the amount of support owed?

Scenario:

Parent “A” is a 32 year old paramedic earning about $40,000 annually after 5 years of employment experience, with full benefits. Parent “B” is a 30 year old registered nurse, who obtained her nursing degree one year earlier and is earning $38,000 annually with benefits. The parties have been married for 5 years and have one child, who is now 4 years old and entering VPK. “A” is burned out from his job so he voluntarily resigns his position to go back to school to become a registered nurse. If “A” goes full time to school, he will obtain his nursing certificate in 2 years with a comparable earning capacity as when he was a paramedic. A’s decision to resign eventually causes friction between “A” and “B” and they separate. The parents’ child stays in the Home with “B”. What is “A’s” support obligation?

Answer:

Both parents have a legal duty of support for their minor child. Their respective child support obligations are established in accordance with Florida’s guidelines. Section 61.30, Florida Statutes. However, in this scenario, “A” is unemployed having resigned from his position as a paramedic earning $40,000 annually.

A court may “impute income” to a parent if he or she is voluntarily un- or under-employed. Here, “A” is clearly voluntarily unemployed having resigned to pursue his nursing certification because he is burned out from being a paramedic and wants to do something different in the medical field. In this instance, the Court may impute income to “A” based on his “employment potential and probable earnings level... based on his or her recent work history, occupational qualifications, and prevailing earnings level in the community...” Section 61.30(2)(b), Florida Statutes.

“A” may argue that income should not be imputed to him to establish any child support obligation at this time since he is pursuing an education to further or advance his career. The prevailing law on this issue is that income should not be imputed to a parent if that parent’s reduction in income is due to an educational pursuit which will ultimately benefit the parties’ minor child. So, if “A” is voluntarily unemployed, does his pursuit of a nursing degree enhance his earning potential beyond that he was earning as a paramedic? Under this scenario, this would not be the case since both positions have similar earning capacities with benefits. Therefore, a court would probably impute income to “A” even though he is not actually working at the time. The conclusion might be different if “A” were earning $12 per hour as an emergency medical technician and wanted to pursue his education as a paramedic or nurse. In this instance, “A” could enhance his earning potential within a reasonable period of time; and, most importantly, the subject Child would still be a very young child who would benefit by the increase in “A’s” earning capacity.

Other Articles:

Child Support and Alimony: Imputing income
Timesharing and the mental stability of a parent as an issue in controversy
Equitable Distribution's impact upon an award of Alimony: Income Producing Assets
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