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Modifying Child Support for College Expenses in Orlando: Legal Aspects

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How Is Child Support Calculated in Florida?

Parents have a responsibility to support their minor children. In determining whether one parent is required to pay child support to the other parent and how much the payments will be, the court uses specific state child support guidelines. Under the statute, after considering all factors, a court may order child support payments no more than 5% more or less than the guideline amounts. If a court orders an amount of child support that varies more than 5% from the guideline amount, it must produce a written finding of why ordering the guideline amount would not be appropriate or just. Factors considered by the court include:

  • The income of each parent
  • Age of each parent
  • Financial ability, status, and station in life of each parent
  • Number of children
  • Needs of the children
  • Standard of living
  • Healthcare costs for the child
  • Childcare costs

For purposes of calculating child support, the gross monthly income of each parent includes wages or salaries; tips, bonuses, and commissions; workers’ compensation settlements or benefits; disability benefits; unemployment compensation; Social Security benefits, alimony; interest and dividends; retirement, pension, or annuity payments; rental income; trust, royalties, or estate income, in-kind payments; and gains from dealing in property. Net income is calculated by subtracting allowable deductions, which include income taxes, mandatory retirement payments and union dues, health insurance other than for the minor child, and court-ordered support for another child or former spouse. 

How Can College Affect Child Support Obligations?

The impact of college on child support can vary from one case to another. Judges in Florida cannot order child support beyond the end of the school year in which the child turns 18. Although parents in Florida are not required by law to pay for the costs of a child’s college education, they may enter into a settlement agreement containing terms about college expenses, such as tuition, books, housing, and supplies. It may be an open-ended agreement if specifically stated as such, in which a commitment is made to pay for all or a portion of the child’s college expenses. 

This type of settlement agreement is usually reached during the divorce process. However, it is not always possible to know a child’s plans for college in advance. Costs may vary significantly from one institution to the next and with different student living arrangements. 

What Is the Current Cost of a College Education?

Total costs for a child’s college education may include tuition, fees, books, supplies, room, board, and other miscellaneous expenses. They can vary widely, depending on whether the institution is public, private nonprofit, or private for-profit, whether it is a two-year or four-year institution, and whether the student lives off-campus with family or off-campus, not with family, or on campus. In the academic year 2021-22, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of first-time, full-time attendance for an undergraduate student at a four-year institution was:

  • $55,800 at private nonprofit schools;
  • $32,900 at private for-profit schools; and
  • $26,000 at public schools.

Tuition and fees alone for four-year colleges averaged $9,700 for public institutions, $17,800 for private for-profit institutions, and $38,000 for private nonprofit institutions. For two-year schools, average tuition and fees were lower — $4,000 for public institutions, $15,600 for private for-profit institutions, and $17,700 for nonprofit private institutions. 

Can Child Support Be Modified or Enforced for College Expenses in Florida?

Generally, parents are not required to pay for college expenses as part of child support obligations in Florida. However, there are some exceptions to the rule. If the parents entered into a marital settlement agreement that includes payment of college expenses, they have an enforceable contract. As an example, divorcing parents may agree to each cover half of a child’s college expenses. If one parent fails to do so, the other parent may take the matter to court to enforce the agreement. 

What Happens When a Child in College Turns 18?

Under the Florida statute on enforcement and modification of support, a parent’s obligation to pay current child support terminates when the child turns 18 or is legally emancipated — unless otherwise agreed to by the parties or ordered by the court. Without a court order or settlement agreement that says otherwise, a parent paying child support may cease making payments when the child reaches the age of majority. On the other hand, if the parent paying child support agreed in writing to pay all or a portion of the costs of sending a child through college, they have a legal obligation to do so. 

How Can the Law Office of Erin Morse Help?

Providing for a child’s education can be a heavy financial burden for parents. This may be an important factor to consider when entering into a marital settlement agreement in a divorce. When it is time for a child to go to college, it is important that both parents keep their part of the agreement. At The Law Office of Erin Morse, we have extensive experience and a history of success handling all aspects of divorce, including marital settlement agreements and enforcement of child support obligations. Contact us at (407) 743-6059 for the skilled legal assistance you need.

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