Change in Income, Other Circumstances and Grounds for Child Support Modifications in FL

The mother of Miami Heat guard Mario Chalmers' three-year-old daughter recently filed a petition in Florida court requesting an increase in Chalmers' child support obligation. The request was prompted by Chalmers' recent three-year contract extension under which his income has been reported to be $4 million per year. The child support order the mother seeks to modify dates from January 2012 and requires Chalmers to pay child support of $2,600 per month. At the time of the original child support order, Chalmers' income was approximately $736,000 per year ($61,300 per month) and his monthly expenses $33,000.

This case raises two interesting questions: under what circumstances can child support be modified and how should a high-income parent's child support obligation be calculated?

When can a child support order be modified in Florida?

Originally, the Florida statute dealing with child support modification only applied to post-divorce child support; however, it now applies to situations like Chalmers' in which a child's parents were never married. The child support laws in Florida allow either parent to petition the court for an order increasing or decreasing the current child support obligation. Grounds for requesting a child support modification in Florida include:

  • Best interest of the child. Child support may be modified if doing so would be in the best interest of the child.
  • Child reaches age of majority. When the child reaches majority (18 years old) the obligation to pay child support terminates unless (1) the dependent child's dependency is because of a mental or physical impairment that began before reaching majority or (2) the dependent child is in high school and "performing in good faith with a reasonable expectation of graduating before the age of 19."
  • Substantial change in circumstances. If the circumstances or financial ability of either party changes, either may petition the court for an increase or decrease in child support. Modifications can generally be retroactively applied to the date the on which the request for modification was originally filed.
  • Emancipation, marriage, military service or death. The obligation to pay child support terminates when a child is legally emancipated, marries, joins the armed services or dies.

How is the child support obligation of a high-income parent calculated?

When child support is calculated under the Florida Child Support Guidelines on the basis of an income the magnitude of Mario Chalmers', the result is a presumptive child support amount that is "excessive" with respect to the actual needs of a child. In the past, courts would disregard the guideline amount and order child support based on the actual needs of a child. The drawback of this solution was that the child was unfairly deprived of the benefits of a parent's good fortune. In response to this inequity, the "good fortune trust" doctrine evolved.

Pursuant to the "good fortune trust" doctrine, courts will order two child support payments of different amounts. The first amount will be based on the child's current reasonable needs and made immediately available for the child's support. The second amount will be based on the child's "share" of the parent's income and will be paid to a trust established for post-minority support of the child.

Speak to a family law attorney

If you have questions about child support or any other family law matter, contact a lawyer to schedule a consultation to discuss your situation.