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High-Income Parents and Child Support in Florida

A recent decision issued by the Fourth District Court of Appeal regarding the proper amount of child support to be paid by a father who made roughly $2 million annually addressed a sometimes challenging issue for the courts:  how to calculate the proper amount of child support for the children of an extremely high-income parent. In this case, the appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision to follow the child support guidelines, leaving in place an order that demanded a monthly child support payment of nearly $9,000.

The father, Peter Gross, was “a highly compensated Wall Street financier,” in the words of the court. In the parents’ child support case, the trial court imputed an income of $50,000 per year to the mother and calculated the father’s income at more than $161,000 per month. After initially setting the father’s temporary support amount at $4,259 per month, the court issued an order after the final hearing that increased this amount to more than $8,900 per month.

The father appealed. One of the central elements of his appellate case was that the trial court did not correctly follow a 1998 Florida Supreme Court case, Finley v. Scott, in deciding whether or not to order a downward deviation from the child support guidelines, meaning an award of support less than what is stated in the guidelines. The Finley case is considered to be the key case in Florida regarding high-income parents’ child support obligations and downward deviations from the child support guidelines. That case involved a mother of very limited income and wealth and a father, Dennis Scott, who was a highly successful star basketball player for, at that time, the NBA’s Orlando Magic. Scott’s income was more than $266,000 per month. In Scott’s case, the guidelines called for him to pay, and the mother requested, roughly $10,000 per month in child support, even though the monthly expenses of the household in which the child lived only totaled around $2,100 per month. The court deviated downward from the guidelines, ordering Scott to pay $5,000 per month.

In Gross’ case, in contrast to Scott’s, the court rejected the request for a downward deviation. Gross failed because he had an evidence problem. The appeals court decided that, contrary to the father’s assertions, the trial court was correct in demanding that the father, as the parent seeking the downward deviation, bear the burden of proof in establishing that the evidence in the case showed that the guidelines-dictated amount was not proper. Florida law establishes a presumption that the amount of support stated in the guidelines is the appropriate amount, but it allows the paying spouse to rebut that presumption if he has enough evidence. In this case, the court decided that Gross had the burden of rebutting the presumption but lacked the proof to accomplish this.

As a high-income earner, there are substantial risks any time you are involved in a divorce or other family law case. To make sure that your interests are adequately protected, contact the thoughtful and diligent Florida child support attorneys at Stok Kon + Braverman. Our attorneys have the sensitivity, knowledge, and experience you need on your side to take on your divorce or family law case.

Contact us online or by calling (954) 237-1777 to schedule your consultation.

More blog posts:

New Florida Supreme Court Decision Offers Beneficial Information for High-Asset Individuals Contemplating Prenuptial Agreements, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, Jan. 14, 2016

Florida Trial Court’s Alimony Award Reversed for Exceeding Wife’s Established Need, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, Sept. 2, 2015

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