California Child Support: The 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions Answered

How is it determined? Child support in California is based on a statewide guideline. The formula by which it is determined is rather complex.
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  1. How is it determined? Child support in California is based on a statewide guideline. The formula by which it is determined is rather complex. As a result, it is usually calculated by attorneys using one of a few computer programs licensed by companies that provide legal research software. The calculation is based upon the number of children, the income of each of the parents, the timeshare that each parent has custody, their tax filing status, and their tax-deductible expenses;

  • Is there a dollar limit on the amount of support that one can be ordered to pay? Unlike some states, California does not provide for a cap in the amount of support to be ordered. The guideline calculation is the presumptively legal calculation in most cases. There are some very limited instances when the court can deviate from this, discussed below;
  • What happens if the calculation generates an amount that is clearly higher than what is necessary to raise a child? The guideline calculation may or may not generate such a result. What is necessary to raise a child varies on a case-by-case basis. The law provides that a child is entitled to have a lifestyle commensurate with that of his or her parents. For this reason, a child support calculation that improves the lifestyle of the lower income parent is often upheld by the court. In those instances when the child support amount is so excessive that it bears no reasonable relationship to either the lifestyle of the parents, or the amount of support required to raise a child commensurate with that lifestyle, the court may deviate from the guideline.
  • What if the child support paid ends up being enough to support both the child and the other parent? This does happen in certain instances. Given that the law allows the child to be raised in a lifestyle consistent with that which the higher earning parent can provide, there have been cases upheld by higher courts where the receiving parent moved up in terms of housing and other expenses because of the amount of child support paid. In cases with a parent who earns very significant income, this is not an uncommon result.
  • What income is included in the calculation? Earned income from employment, recurring interest or investment income, and cash flow from businesses can be included. The California Family Code provides that income from all sources is to be considered. That does not mean that the calculation is based on the income reported in a tax return only. Many times people run personal expenses through a business as a business deduction. In those instances, the amount of expense which is for the benefit of the business owner, and not a true business expenses is added back to income for the purposes of calculating support.
  • What if the parent receiving the support does not use it for the child? Unfortunately, the answer to his commonly asked question is there isn't much to be done about that. The law does not require that the support be used for any specific purpose, and there are no requirements that the recipient account for the use of the money that is received. The law presumes that certain general living expenses (mortgage or rent, utilities, groceries) incurred by a parent are incurred for the benefit of the child, as well.
  • Does the person receiving support have to pay all of the child's expenses? No. Support is to provide for basic living expenses. It does not include the payment of things such as school tuition, non-covered medical expenses, or extracurricular activities. Those items are usually split between the parents and for the parent paying child support, she will end up paying the monthly support amount and a portion of these expenses in addition thereto.
  • Is the amount of support the same for each child where there are multiple children in a family? No. The formula used to calculate support apportions it between children, and, oddly, gives the higher amount of support to the youngest child. For some reason, the legislature has seen fit to make the determination that a younger child is in greater need of support than an older child. This makes no logical sense whatsoever, especially when you realize that the financial needs of a healthy infant or toddler are generally a fraction of those of a teenager.
  • Does child support go through college graduation? Not in California. Support ends when the child reaches the age of 18 and graduates from high school provided that they are living with a custodial parent. If they have not graduated at age 18, and are still enrolled in high school full-time, then support continues until they graduate, or age 19, whichever occurs first.
  • What if financial circumstances change after it has been determined? Child support is always subject to modification if there is a change in one's financial circumstances. It can also be subject to modification if there are changes to the custody arrangement which result in the child spending more or less time with the parent receiving support.
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