How Can Changes in a Parent’s Income Affect Child Support Obligations?
When parents enter into a child support agreement, a court will only allow the parent paying support to reduce his or her obligations under very narrow circumstances. For example, if there is a permanent change in the parent’s income, that would qualify as grounds for asking a judge to reduce support obligations. But even then, the change in income must be “sufficient, material, and involuntary,” according to a number of Florida court rulings on the subject.
Court Reverses Decision to Retroactively Reduce Father’s Support Payments
For example, the Florida First District Court of Appeals recently overturned a trial judge’s decision to reduce a father’s child support award based on a purported reduction in income. The parties to this case, Tisdale v. Tisdale, separated in 2015. Under the terms of mutually agreed-upon marital settlement agreement (MSA), the father agreed to pay the mother $6,500 per month in child support. At the time, the father reported annual income of $68,000 per month (or $816,000 per year), while the mother had no income of her own.
About a year later, the parties agreed to reduce the father’s support obligation to $5,300 per month, to account for the fact the couple’s children were now attending public rather than private school. For some reason, it was not until after this reduction that a court finally granted the couple’s divorce, which incorporated the modified terms of the MSA.
Three months after the divorce became final, the father filed a petition in court to reduce his child support obligation further. He alleged “that his income had precipitously plunged” since he agreed to the MSA two years earlier. The mother objected, telling the court her ex-husband’s income had actually increased in the months following his petition.
As it turned out, the father’s income actually fluctuated quite a bit because he worked in a job that paid him entirely on commission. The trial court ultimately decided to reduce the father’s child support obligation from $5,300 per month to just over $3,300 per month. The judge also made this reduction “retroactive” to when he filed the petition.
The First District reversed the trial court’s decision to reduce child support retroactively. The appeals court explained the trial judge’s ruling actually contradicted itself. As discussed above, Florida judges may only order a reduction in child support based on a “permanent” change in the parent’s finances. Yet here, the trial court found the change was not permanent. In fact, the father “did not experience a full year of substantially lowered income.” So a retroactive modification was not justified as a matter of law.
Speak with a Boca Raton Child Support Attorney Today
Calculating the proper amount of child support is often a complex issue in Florida divorce cases. This is why it is always important to work with a qualified Boca Raton child support lawyer, whether you are the parent requesting support or the one who is asked to pay. Contact WiseLieberman, PLLC, to discuss your particular child support situation with a member of our legal team today.