Divorce proceedings include a variety of complicated legal issues, particularly when children are involved. You and your former spouse must make several important decisions that can impact your life for years to come, and if you have children, you must reach an agreement on child support. A judge may order one or both parents to contribute monthly child support payments that help cover the expenses involved in raising the child, such as food, clothing, shelter, education, healthcare, and childcare. Every family situation is unique, and some parents wonder if they can bypass the state’s child support guidelines to make an agreement that waives child support. However, such an agreement is not legally binding as it infringes on the child’s constitutional right to care and fails to protect the child’s best interests.
If you are concerned about child support, know that the obligation to support your children is mandated and enforced by the law; you cannot divest the court of its authority to order child support. Still, it is possible to reach an agreement for a lower child support amount if both parents can make this agreement in writing and submit it to the court with appropriate evidence that shows this decision will not negatively impact the child. A divorce mediation attorney can help you negotiate the terms of the agreement with your ex so you can establish a mutually beneficial child support agreement. Prioritize your child’s best interests and ensure they receive the care they need to thrive with help from a divorce mediation lawyer.
California Child Support Guidelines
According to the California Family Code, every parent is legally obligated to financially support their children, and this does not change based on the status of the parental relationship. Parents who seek to dissolve their marriage or domestic partnership must continue financially supporting their children if they are under 18 years of age or 19 years old but still enrolled in high school full time and not self-supporting. If the parents are not married, they must establish paternity before requesting child support. Either parent can initiate a child support case on their own or as part of another family law case, such as a divorce or domestic violence restraining order. If either parent receives public assistance or has opened a private case with the Department of Child Support Services, a child support case is automatically opened against the other parent.
Judges use an income share model to determine the monthly cost of raising the child and then calculate the minimum child support amount by considering each parent’s income, child support deductions, and share of parenting time. This includes salary, wages, earning capacity, tax filing status, health insurance expenses, mandatory payroll deductions, number of children, child support paid to children from other relationships, childcare costs, and uninsured healthcare costs, among other factors. It can also include educational expenses, travel costs for visitation, or other special needs.
Basic child support payments do not cover healthcare coverage and childcare costs. The judge will typically order the non-custodial parent to make ongoing child support payments to the custodial parent until the child reaches adulthood. The court may extend the duration of child support if the child has additional needs or requires further care.
The Balance of Support
While the specifics can vary from case to case, generally, the greater the discrepancy between the parents’ incomes and the less parenting time the higher-earning parent spends with the child, the more child support this parent must pay to the lower-earning parent. If parents share joint custody, a judge will likely order child support payments that equal 15% of the difference between the higher-earning parent’s income and the lower-earning parent’s income. However, judges do have the discretion to order a lower or higher amount than is calculated through the income share formula as long as the modified amount still meets the child’s needs and protects their best interests.
To encourage efficient and mutually beneficial child support negotiation between parents, judges must adhere to the following principles when applying the state’s child support guidelines:
- Every parent is obligated to support their minor children according to their circumstances, station in life, and ability.
- Both parents are mutually responsible for supporting their children.
- It is presumed that the parent who has primary physical responsibility for the child (custodial parent) contributes a sizable portion of their resources to caring for the child
- The main purpose of child support orders is to protect a child’s best interests.
- Child support payments are calculated based on each parent’s income and the level of responsibility they share for the children.
- Children should continue to share in the standard of living they enjoyed before the divorce or legal separation. Child support can reasonably improve the custodial household’s standard of living to accomplish this.
- In child support orders where both parents are responsible for a child’s care, the payment amount should consider the increased costs of raising children in two homes rather than one and minimize any significant disparities in a child’s standard of living between the two homes.
- Child support orders must ensure that the children receive fair, timely, and adequate support to reflect California’s high standard of living and high child raising costs compared to other states.
- This guideline is presumed correct, and child support payments may only fall below the amount calculated in the child support formula in special circumstances.
Can Parents Agree to No Child Support in California?
State law mandates that parents must continue financially supporting their children until they reach adulthood. Parents cite numerous reasons for wanting to waive child support and mistakenly believe this can help them reach a divorce agreement as quickly as possible or avoid potential conflict. Some parents think that requesting child support payments from their spouse means their spouse will seek custody of the child or refuse to make spousal support. Some believe that foregoing child support payments altogether will allow them to reach a more favorable outcome in their divorce case. In other cases, they may simply be worried that they cannot afford the payments set by the court.
Even if you and your spouse make a verbal agreement not to pursue child support, you are legally prohibited from waiving child support in California. Children are dependent on their parents until they can become self-supporting adults and are entitled to receive parental support regardless of the parent’s marital status. If paternity has been legally established, both parents are responsible for supporting the child, regardless of whether they are married, separated, divorced, or have never been married. Child support is a significant legal obligation to the child, not the other parent, and cannot be overruled or canceled. Because the judge is meant to serve as a protector of children, their ultimate priority is ensuring children receive adequate support. Waiving child support violates the child’s rights and does not protect their best interests.
Although trying to waive child support will ultimately prove unsuccessful, it can impact your divorce case in many ways. Judges often view this tactic as a sign that you do not have your child’s best interests at heart. They may consider this an attempt to ignore your financial responsibility for your child, shirk your parental duties, or sway the child custody arrangement in your favor. Failing to follow the proper steps for establishing a child support order can diminish your credibility in the eyes of the court and undermine your ability to persuasively argue the other matters in your divorce case. If a judge feels that you are trying to bypass the law, they can remove some of your decision-making power, leaving these important matters up to their considerable discretion.
Can I Create a Child Support Agreement Without Going to Court?
Although parents cannot waive a child support obligation, they can request a lower amount than what is calculated in the income share model. Parents can create their own child support agreement outside of the courtroom by completing and signing a legal document called a Stipulation to Establish or Modify a Child Support Order. However, they must still submit this agreement to the judge for review and approval. This document states:
- They are the parent of the child.
- They understand their legal rights and responsibilities.
- They are willing to provide child support (and healthcare).
- They were not forced to enter the agreement.
- The proposed agreement is in the child’s best interests.
- The terms of the agreement will sufficiently meet the child’s needs.
- They consent to the court filing the document without appearing in court.
The judge will consider the income of both parents, the amount of time each parent spends with the child, the child’s age, and any special needs they may have that require additional support. If the judge determines that the proposed child support amount is in the child’s best interests, they will approve the agreement, and it will then become a legally binding and enforceable child support order. If the parents cannot reach an agreement on a fair, reasonable amount for child support, the judge will use the income share model to calculate the minimum child support.
Reach the Best Outcome in Your Child Support Case
Waving child support is against the law in California, but you do have options for reducing your child support payments if you feel you cannot afford them. A family law attorney can help you and your spouse negotiate fair, reasonable terms for a child support agreement. At Khalaf Law Group, our team can work with you to develop a clear parenting plan that allows you both to retain meaningful relationships with your child and give them the support they need to succeed. Contact us today to learn how we can help you resolve child support and reach the best outcome in your case.