Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Family Child Support

When parties have more than one child in common, it is important that a Florida child support order include provisions which specify how much child support is to be paid as each child turns 18 or otherwise emancipates and is no longer eligible for child support. This issue arose in the recent Florida family law case Stout v. Stout, 4D18-2296 (Fla. 4th DCA May 1, 2019).

The parties originally entered a marital settlement agreement which stated the former husband would pay support for their three children "continuing as each child reaches the age of 18, or graduates high school, whichever is later." The agreement stated only one amount and did not specify how this amount would reduce when any of the children were no longer eligible for support. Subsequently, the court entered an order increasing the former husband’s child support obligation and he fell into arrears.

Former husband continued to pay child support well after the youngest child was no longer eligible for support, and those amounts were credited toward his arrears. He then petitioned the court to close his child support case contending that after an accounting, it was clear he had paid all arrears by continuing to pay past the date his youngest child graduated from high school. The trial court determined, after reviewing the parties’ agreement and the modification order, that the former husband’s child support obligation was unallocated between the three children and calculated the former husband’s arrears based on the full monthly sum to the date the youngest child graduated high school.

The former husband appealed, and the case turned on whether or not the language in the parties’ agreement allocated payments between the children or treated the payment as one sum to be paid until the youngest child graduated high school. The appellate court determined the payments were allocated, holding “On this point, this Court's decision in Karnbach v. Karnbach, 971 So. 2d 1031 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008) is controlling. There, the parties entered into an MSA wherein the former husband agreed to pay a monthly sum of child support for his two minor children which would "continue until 'each child reaches nineteen (19) years of age, graduates high school, dies or becomes emancipated.'" Id. at 1032 (emphasis omitted). Based on this language, we held that the child support was allocated and thus subject to retroactive reduction upon a qualifying event for the older child. Id. The language contained in the MSA in this case is analogous to the language contained in the MSA quoted by Karnbach. Thus, pursuant to the MSA, Appellant's child support obligations were allocated amongst his children.”

However, the appellate court went on to hold, “[The former husband] is not entitled to an automatic proportional reduction retroactive to the qualifying date for each of his older children. In Lehman v. Department of Revenue ex rel. Lehman, 946 So. 2d 1116, 1119 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006), this Court held that where the language used in an agreement providing for allocated child support "is not clear as to the exact amount the child support is to be reduced by upon a child's emancipation," a hearing is required to fix child support for the remaining children in accordance with the guidelines set forth in section 61.30 of the Florida Statutes. The MSA here is silent as to the amount Appellant's support obligation would reduce by upon the emancipation of each child. Accordingly, we reverse and remand with instructions to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the correct amount of arrearages and the appropriate reduction in child support payments.”

Avoiding unnecessary expense and headache that may accompany litigation starts with seeking the advice of a Miami child support lawyer. Schedule a consultation to create a blue print to success in your Florida family law case.