Florida is a complicated state when it comes to child support, thanks largely to new legislation introduced in 2010. The rules for continued support obligations beyond a child’s 18th birthday are particularly complex, so if your child is nearing this age, you might consider consulting a local lawyer or legal aid office to find out where you stand.
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Changes in 2010
Florida passed a new child support law in October 2010 that requires all judges to include termination dates in their child support orders and divorce decrees. Most child support obligations in the state are paid through income withholding orders – your employer is served with notice that he must deduct the amount of child support from your pay and send it to the state. These orders are supposed to include the cutoff date. The language in the order can be as simple as support ends on your child’s 18th birthday – Florida’s age of majority. It might also state that support is to be extended beyond age 18 if your child is still in high school on his 18th birthday but expects to graduate before age 19. In this case, support ends on the graduation date. Before 2010, parents had to take extra legal steps to terminate child support orders when these events occurred. The new rule was designed to allow support orders to end automatically on the appropriate date, thus avoiding additional court procedures.
According to the Florida law firm of Ayo & Iken, not all judges are in compliance with the recent change in the law. Orders without ending dates -- either because they're older or because of a judge's oversight -- are still valid and enforceable.
If your child can’t graduate high school before age 19 – maybe her 19th birthday is on May 30 and graduation isn’t scheduled until June 10 – support ends on her 18th birthday regardless of her status as a student because she's not reasonably expected to graduate before she turns 19.
Under the 2010 law, if more than one child is covered by your support obligation, the decree or court order should include provisions for automatically reducing your support obligation as each child becomes emancipated. Your income withholding order should reflect the same adjustments if you’re making payments through the state.
If you’ve been paying your ex directly, you can legally stop paying when your decree or order says you can. Otherwise, you’ll need an order from a judge closing out your child support account with state services and lifting your IWO, so your support is no longer deducted from your paychecks.
Support Past Age 18 or Graduation
Florida doesn’t have a specific law or rule that says you must pay child support while your child is in college. The court can only enforce an agreement you’ve made to this effect with your ex if it’s incorporated into your divorce decree or a support order. But, like most states, Florida makes exceptions for support of disabled and special needs children. In this case, child support will last for her lifetime or until she recovers to the extent that she can support herself. The law says the child must be dependent on you and her other parent for support, but doesn’t clearly define what dependent means. If you find yourself in this situation, speak with a local lawyer.
Your divorce decree or support order should clearly state that your child has a disability. If it doesn’t, child support will end automatically on her 18th birthday regardless of her condition. You can go back to court for a new order before she turns 18, one that includes this required language, but if you don’t, once she reaches her 18th birthday, you can’t go back to court retroactively to extend support.