Does a Parent’s Increase in Income Automatically Mean an Increase in Child Support Payments?
Child support obligations do not always remain static. Even when the parents have agreed that one of them will pay a specified amount of child support, the other parent may later petition a judge for an increase based on a “substantial change” in circumstances. For example, the parent paying support may now earn substantially more money than they did at the time the original support obligation was established.
NFL Player Ordered to Pay Additional Support Thru Child’s 18th Birthday
A recent decision from the Florida Third District Court of Appeals, Gore v. Smith, illustrates how this works. The father in this case, an NFL player, initially filed a petition to establish his paternity over a minor child. The father and the mother eventually entered into a mediated settlement agreement, under which the father agreed to pay $4,000 per month in child support and other expenses related to the child’s care.
Several years later, the mother asked the court to modify the child support terms of the settlement. The mother’s principal justification was that the father now earned significantly more than he did when they negotiated the settlement. As the Third District pointed out, the settlement was signed in 2008, when the father was in his rookie year in the NFL. In the years since, “his income has substantially increased and he has acquired considerable assets.” At the same time, the court noted, the child’s expenses have increased, while the mother’s income has not.
These factors alone justified the trial court’s ultimate decision to award the mother additional retroactive child support, the Third District concluded. But this obligation only extended until the child’s 18th birthday, which occurred in June 2020.
What Goes Up Can Also Go Down–But Do Not Try and Game the System
You may be wondering: If a court can increase child support obligations when a parent’s assets or income goes up, does the reverse also hold? That is, can a judge lower a parent’s support obligation based on a significant decrease in their income?
The answer is yes. Either parent can request a modification of child support based on any “substantial change” in circumstances. This includes a loss of the paying parent’s source of income. But it is important to understand that a judge is not required to grant a modification request on this basis. Furthermore, a parent cannot avoid child support obligations by voluntarily reducing their income, i.e. by quitting their job. Indeed, in such cases the court will still “impute” or assign income to the parent based on what they should be earning.
Ultimately, the point of child support orders is to protect the child, not the parents. You should always keep this in mind when negotiating a settlement or order with respect to your own situation. At the end of the day, a Florida judge will not sign off on any agreement that will harm the child just to make things easier for the parents.
If you need advice or representation in connection with any child support matter from an experienced Boca Raton family law attorney, contact WiseLieberman, PLLC, at 561-488-7788 to schedule a consultation.