If you are getting divorce, and you and your spouse have children, chances are one of you will need to pay child support. Below we outline what child support is, how it is usually decided upon, and what kinds of issues can arise.
Child support is defined as a monthly payment that parents (either one or both) make to help cover the costs associated with raising a child.
In child custody arrangements, it is usually agreed that one parent will be the custodial parent and non-custodial parent. The custodial parent cares for the child the majority of the time, while the non-custodial parent has less parenting time. Sometimes a court will also award joint custody, where both parents share the amount of child care time.
When it comes to awarding child support, the custodial parent tends to receive child support payments. The law assumes that a custodial parent is already spending money directly on the child. That means that the non-custodial parent usually makes the child support payments.
A court can also order both parents to pay child support.
Length of Child Support
While it’s typical for a court to order that child support payments must be made until the child turns 18, there are exceptions. These exceptions include if the child is 19 but is still in high school and lives with the parent, then support payments must still be made. Other exceptions include if the child marries or registers a domestic partnership, joins the military, or becomes self-supporting before they turn 18, then typically child support payments are stopped. Either parent is also able to agree to support a child for a longer period of time or, if a child is unable to become self-supporting due to a disability, a court may order continued support beyond the age of 18.
California Child Support Guidelines
When it comes to deciding on the amount that should be made for child support, there are guidelines that have been set forth by California.
California’s child support guidelines are a mathematical formula based on a number of factors, which we will discuss below. These factors can be confusing, which is why it is always advised that you work with a lawyer that can help guide you.
There are also online resources to help you determine child support payments based on California’s guidelines, including the California Guidelines Calculator and the California Guideline Child Support Calculator User Guide.
Issues with the Guideline
While a court often presumes the number given by the guidelines is an appropriate amount of child support, occasionally the results of the guideline calculator can be unfair. This can happen in special circumstances where parents have different time-sharing arrangements for different children. This means that one child live with Parent A for the majority of the time, while a second child lives with Parent B for a majority of the time. Unfair guidelines judgments can also happen when the parents have equal time-sharing, or if one parent has a higher income than the other, or in cases where a child has special medical needs. In these cases, a court could decide to order a larger or lower amount of child support.
But it’s not just the court that can decide. Parents are also allowed to agree to pay more or less (when it is justified). Regardless of if both parents decide on a different amount than the one provided by the calculator, a court must first approve the final amount. In these instances, a court will ask if both parents are fully aware of their rights concerning support and were not forced into the agreement to pay less child support. When parents ask for a lower amount to be awarded, they must also be able to explain how and why the lower amount is in the child’s best interest, as well as prove that the child’s needs will be met.
Applying for less child support is not an option for parents who have applied for or receive public assistance. A parent who already receives public assistance may agree to support payments that are at or above the guidelines amount. In these cases, the local child support services agency must also agree to the amount.
Figuring Out Child Support Payments
To figure out the amount of child support that needs to be paid in accordance to the California guidelines you will need to gather some information.
First, you will need both parents’ net disposable income, which is the difference between gross income and what counts as deductions for child support purposes. Gross income includes, but is not limited to the following: salaries, commissions, unemployment benefits, social security benefits, spousal support payments, and even lottery winnings. You are able to exclude child and spousal support payments (actually paid) and money received from public assistance programs like CalWORKs.
In addition to the parents’ net disposable incomes, you will also need the following information:
- number of children who need support
- the current custody arrangement
- both parents’ tax liabilities
- information on whether a parent supports other children from another relationship
- every child’s health insurance expenses
- both parents’ mandatory retirement contributions as well as other job-related expenses, and
- other relevant costs (which can include health care, day care, and travel).
Typically a court will order one or both parents to provide for the child’s health care, as well as child care. A court is also able to order additional payment for a child’s education or special needs, and also for a parent’s travel expenses when they have to travel to visit the child.
A Note on Avoiding Child Support
It should be noted that parent who intends to avoid paying child support through refusing to work, or working less, usually does not get away with it. A court can “impute” income, and come up with an amount of money that a parent should be earning. This amount is based on employment history, education, and training. The state will hold a deadbeat parent accountable to the family, rather than punish the parent who stayed home with young children.
After you have determined gross income, you deduct state and federal income taxes, mandatory union dues, and health insurance premiums. There are also a number of other deductions you might be able to take. For that, it’s advised that you work with an attorney, or consult the California Guideline Child Support Calculator User Guide.
Once you have entered the disposable net income and other deductions into the child support calculator, you will have a good idea of the amount of support due. Remember that this number is just an estimate, and is not final until a court has reviewed it and agreed on it.
Changing Child Support Orders
Even if a child support order has been agreed to and decided on by a court, it is not always set in stone. A parent is able to ask for a modification of child support orders at any point if there has been a significant change in financial or time-share circumstances.
Instances where this happens include involuntary loss of job, a shift in the time-sharing agreement, or a parent makes less or more income than when the amount was decided upon. Other reasons include when a parent has another child with a different partner, or if a parent gets sent to jail.
When a parent asks the court for a modification to a child support order, the court will first need to consider both parents’ financial situations and the time-share agreement before agreeing to the modification. Sometimes, if a parent’s income decreases, the child support payment they are currently paying will increase. This is because of the change that will happen with time-share. That’s why it’s important to re-calculate time-share when it comes to modifying the payment amount. This can be a very complicated matter, and that’s why it’s important to work with an attorney.
Work With Our Divorce Law Firm
The child support process can be a difficult one, but one that can be aided by the help of an attorney. There are many aspects of a marriage that must be decided, including child custody, marital property, and alimony. Working with an attorney is a way to make the process smoother. If you’re considering divorce, you should also consider an attorney like the ones at Law Offices of Korol and Velen, Certified Family Law Specialists.