Child Support in California

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Purpose of Child Support

California’s Family Code describes with particularity the reasons for child support laws. The family code states that it is the responsibility of both parents to provide financial support to their children and it is in the child’s best interest to be financially supported by both parents. Additionally, the family code states that a child should have the same standard of living in both parents’ homes. It also notes that child support can improve the standard of living of a custodial parent and helps to reduce the disparity between the parents’ standard of living.

Income Shares Model

Like 38 other states, California uses the income shares model to determine how much child support should be paid. California apportions the amount of child support to be paid between the parents based on their income and time they spend with the child. This model is based on the idea that the child should receive the same proportion of the parent’s income that he or she would have received had the parents lived together. In the income shares model, the income of both parents is added together to determine the amount of financial support the child requires based on the child support guidelines. This amount is then apportioned between the parents according to the amount of income they each have. For example, if a non-custodial parent earned $2,000 per month and a custodial parent earned $1,000 a month in income, this figure would be compared with the child support tables. If the child support tables showed a financial obligation of $550 in support, the noncustodial parent would be responsible for two-thirds of this support obligation since he or she earns two-thirds of the combined income. Therefore, the non-custodial parent would be responsible for $366.30 in child support each month according to this example.

Parenting Time

California law directly links parenting time and child support. The law requires a lowered amount of child support to be paid as the amount of parenting time increases because the parent’s expenses while having care of the child will increase as the time with the child increases.

Determining the Amount of Support

California uses a child support calculator to determine the amount of support to order. The factors that have the biggest impact on the amount of support that is determined to be appropriate include:

  • The number of children entitled to support
  • The amount of parenting time each parent has with the children
  • The parents’ net disposable income

Guideline Child Support

The computer programs determines the amount of child support based on these factors. This amount comprises the guideline child support. This is customarily the amount of child support that will be ordered.

Deviating from the Guideline Child Support

However, a California family court can deviate from this guideline and order more or less support if the amount of support ordered would be unjust by using this calculation. The family court must have a legal reason to deviate from the guideline child support. The party wanting the court to deviate from this number has the burden of persuading the court that the guideline child support amount would not be just in this particular situation. Some reasons why the court can deviate from the guideline child support include:

  • The parties agreed to a different amount
  • The paying parent’s income is so high that a proportionate amount of support is unreasonable
  • The custodial parent is not contributing to the children’s needs at a level that is proportionate to his or her income
  • The sale of the family home has been deferred and the rental value of the property exceeds the housing expenses
  • Parents have similar amounts of parenting time but their incomes are very disparate
  • The child has special medical needs or other needs that require greater support levels

If the court reaches the decision that a different amount of support, it must state the amount of support determined by using the child support guideline formula, the reasons why the amount ordered is different and why this new amount is in the best interests of the child. If a party request it, the court must supply the following information in writing:

  • The net monthly disposable income of each parent
  • Deductions from gross income for each parent
  • The filing status of each parent
  • The approximate percentage of parenting time of each parent

Parental Agreements

The parties may agree to a different amount of support that is the guideline child support amount. However, child support arrears cannot be waived. Additionally, if the amount of child support is less than the guideline amount, the court may more critically examine the agreement before approving it.

Health Insurance

In addition to the amount of base child support, child support orders usually contain information about the child’s medical support. This is in addition to the base child support. The provision may state that one or both parents are required to provide health insurance for the child if the insurance is available at no cost or at a reasonable cost. Employment health insurance programs are typically considered reasonable as well are plans that do not exceed five percent of the parent’s gross income. If a parent does provide health insurance, the child support obligation may be lowered by a certain amount.

Child Support Add-Ons

California also allows add-ons to the amount of child support for certain expenses, including:

Uninsured Health Care Expenses

Uninsured health care expenses may be ordered by the court to be paid by one party, divided equally or otherwise allocated between the parents. These expenses include reasonable medical, dental and vision services that were not covered under any applicable insurance.

Child Care Costs

Additionally, a parent may be required to pay for additional child care costs that are necessary for the employment, education or training of the parent. This amount may be paid to the other parent or directly to the child care provider.

Discretionary Child Support Add-Ons

There may be additional add-ons that the court has the discretion to order. These can include:

Educational Costs

A California family court may order the non-custodial parent to contribute toward private school expenses. Similarly, the court may order an add-on if the child has special needs that require the use of private or special schooling.

Extracurricular Activities

The court can also order payments for extracurricular activities, especially when the child has already been engaged in these activities.

Travel Expenses

The court may order travel expenses that are necessary for visitation. This may occur when a custodial parent is required to travel a greater distance so that the noncustodial parent can take the child. Likewise, the noncustodial parent may ask for a credit or reimbursement for expenses related to visiting the child.

When determining discretionary add-ons, the court considers the ability of the parent to pay for such add-ons.

Termination of Child Support Obligation

California child support orders continue until the child turns 18. However, if the child is still enrolled in high school and is living with a parent, the support obligation continues until the child turns 19 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs first. Other grounds for termination include if the child marries, joins the military or becomes emancipated. Parents may agree on child support beyond this age.

Legal Assistance

Individuals who would like more information on receiving child support or defending against a child support action should contact an experienced family law attorney. The child support system is complex and involves a variety of different factors and arguments that can be made. A family law attorney can discuss what the possible guideline amount should be and whether there may be an option to agree on another amount or to consider add-ons.