Child support refers to the court-ordered monthly payment that one child’s parent makes to the other parent to help cover the expenses involved in raising the child. According to federal and state law, both parents are legally obligated to financially support their children until they reach adulthood or earn a high school diploma. The court assumes that the parent who provides most of the care or parenting time (the custodial parent) also spends the largest portion of their income on the child’s daily needs. This parent typically receives child support payments from the parent who offers less parenting time (the non-custodial parent).
Each state has its own set of laws regarding child support payments, and California’s income share model involves a particularly complicated formula that takes a variety of factors into account.
If you are in the process of filing for a divorce, it’s important to understand your responsibilities and know what to expect from a child support order. Khalaf Law Group can explain your best options for maximizing child support in California.
California Child Support Laws
Federal law requires that all states develop a systematic approach to calculating child support payments. Because of this, every state has its own specific child support guidelines with formulas that vary from state to state. In California Family Code Sections 4050 to 4076, California’s Statewide Child Support Guideline outlines a specific model for determining the minimum level of child support needed to care for a child and sets forth a collection of principles that courts must follow in applying child support laws. The goal is to ensure the child has the financial support to meet their needs and can retain the same standard of living they enjoyed before the dissolution of the marriage or domestic partnership.
Ideally, parents can cooperate to create a support agreement (Stipulation) outside of the courtroom and then ask a judge to review this proposed agreement. After a judge approves it, this agreement becomes legally binding and enforceable. If the parents are unable or unwilling to explore mediation or other options to negotiate a mutually beneficial agreement, they lose some control. Child support will be established in family court with a child support order.
Income Share Model for Child Care
To ensure both parents contribute to their child’s care, the judge will use an income share model to determine the total monthly cost of raising the child. The court will then calculate child support payments based on the parent’s income and parenting time, among other factors. State law presumes the amount determined by the formula is correct. It requires judges to adhere to this guideline unless parents can provide a compelling reason why a different amount should be ordered.
Child support orders are typically issued during a divorce, legal separation, or annulment, but the status of the parents’ relationship does not impact their legal duty to provide financial support. The only requirement for obtaining a child support order is to establish maternity and paternity. Unmarried parents can ask the judge to make a child support determination as part of a Petition to Establish Parental Relationship. Married parents or parents in a domestic partnership who do not wish to become divorced or legally separated or parents who have already signed a Voluntarily Declaration of Paternity can obtain a Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children to create a child support agreement. Child support can also be ordered in a domestic violence restraining order case.
How Is Child Support Determined?
In the income share model, the judge will consider each parent’s monthly net disposable income, the percentage of time the child spends with each parent, and the number of children who require support. Net disposable income refers to the difference between gross income and the expenses that count as deductions for child support purposes. The judge will determine the gross annual income of each parent, subtract specific deductions from these totals to determine net disposal income, and divide each amount by twelve to calculate monthly payments. In general, the greater the difference in income and the less time the higher-earning parent spends with the child, the more child support this parent will be obligated to pay to the lower-earning parent.
Gross income includes income from all sources, such as:
- Salary, wages, or tip income
- Bonuses and commissions
- Annuities and royalties
- Income from dividends and interest
- Income from a trust, rental property, or ownership of a business
- Disability insurance, workers’ compensation, unemployment, or social security benefits
- Spousal support received from any individual who is not the other parent in the current child support case
- Lottery winnings
- Insurance payouts
Gross income does not include need-based public assistance benefits (such as Supplemental Security Income) or child support payments paid for other children from prior relationships.
Child support deductions include:
- State and federal tax obligations
- Necessary work-related expenses
- Union dues when required for employment
- Health insurance premiums
- Retirement contributions
- Other mandatory payroll deductions
- Basic living expenses for children from other relationships
- Hardships resulting from extremely costly health expenses or insured catastrophic losses
Judges consider child custody (time-share) arrangements in the child support formula along with income and deductions. If one parent has sole custody of the child, the non-custodial parent will pay a percentage of the calculated cost of raising the child. This cost is based on their proportional share of the total combined income for both parents. For example, consider a family where the non-custodial parent earns $2,000 in income per month and the non-custodial parent earns $1,000 per month. This means that the non-custodial parent’s income comprises 66.6% of the total combined income and this parent must pay 66.6% of the total child support obligation, or $666 per month. In shared custody agreements, the amount of the child support payments made by the paying parent is reduced according to the amount of time they have custody of the child.
Health insurance must be included in any child support case. The judge will order one or both parents to pay for the child’s healthcare, including vision and dental insurance. If insurance is not immediately available at the time the order is issued, the judge will order both parents to provide insurance when it becomes available. The judge will also order one or both parents to pay for childcare costs that are reasonably necessary for sustaining employment or obtaining the necessary education or training to secure employment.
What Are Child Support Add-ons?
A parent may be ordered to cover other expenses in addition to basic child support (add-ons) that benefit the child. Depending on the circumstances, a judge can require the following child support add-ons:
- Reasonable uninsured healthcare costs for the child’s medical needs, such as deductibles and co-pays
- Educational costs
- Special needs that require additional expenses
- Travel expenses incurred by the custodial parent for visitation
When a judge orders child support add-ons, they intend both parents to share these expenses equally. However, in some cases, a parent may request an unequal allocation of these expenses and the judge is authorized to approve this plan if they believe it to be appropriate. For example, if one parent earns significantly more than the other, the judge may order the higher-earning spouse to contribute a higher percentage of these expenses. In this case, the court will use the income share model to find the standard child support amount, then apportion the add-on child support between the parents based on their net disposable income.
What Is the Maximum Child Support in California?
When parents share 50/50 custody of a child, the child support payments typically equal 15% of the difference between the higher-earner’s income and the lower-earner’s income. For example, if one parent earns $1,500 per month and the other earns $3,000, this income difference of $1,500 would likely result in the higher-earning parent paying around $225 in child support each month (15% of the $1,500 income difference). If both parents make the same amount, it is possible that neither of them will be ordered to pay child support.
In some cases, a judge can order a higher or lower support amount than what is calculated in the income share model. However, these deviations only occur in limited, specified situations. The judge must give a clear reason for why they believe this is necessary for the child’s best interest. Examples of situations that would justify a support deviation include:
- One parent has an extraordinarily high income, and the amount calculated by the income share formula would exceed the needs of the child.
- One parent is not appropriately contributing to the child’s needs compared to the amount of time they spend with the child.
- Parents spend equal parenting time with the child, but one spends a significantly higher or lower portion of their monthly income on housing.
- The child has special needs that require a greater level of support.
Achieve the Best Results with Expert Legal Representation
To reach the best outcome in your case, you need to know your rights and responsibilities as a parent as well as how California’s child support laws impact your unique situation. Khalaf Law Group can help facilitate negotiations between you and your ex to create a fair child support agreement that prioritizes your child’s best interests. We can also modify support orders if you struggle to make your court-ordered payments or help enforce the order if your ex fails to remain current on their payments. Contact us today to discuss your case.