If you are new to California’s child support laws, there’s
probably a lot that you don’t know and this lack of knowledge gets
well-meaning parents, namely non-custodial parents (the ones who pay child
support), into trouble. In order to help you better understand how child
support works in California, we have provided a list of frequently asked
If you need help with a child support issue or another
family law matter, don’t hesitate to contact our firm to schedule your free
initial consultation. We’re happy to help navigate you through California’s
child support laws.
1. How do child support payments start? In California, child support payments are usually preceded by a
paternity action, a legal separation, or by a
2. When does child support end? Under California law, both parents are obligated to financially support
their children until they reach the age of 18, or until they graduate
high school, whichever happens later.
3. Do I have to pay for college expenses? Divorced parents are not legally obligated to pay for their children’s
college – it’s the same with married parents. However, parents can
voluntarily enter into a legally-binding contract where they agree to
pay for college tuition and expenses. Such contracts include
postnuptial agreements, and
marital settlement agreements. In the absence of one of the above contracts, there is no requirement
to pay college tuition and related expenses.
4. Can I stop paying child support if my ex won’t let me see my kids? No! Child custody and child support are two separate matters. If you are
ordered to pay child support, you cannot withhold it because the other
parent refuses to let you see your children – it does not work that
way. Instead, you will have to go to court to address the child custody
issue. You cannot get the court to erase your child support arrears from
the time period where your ex would not let you see your children.
5. What if I can’t afford to pay child support? If something long-term has happened; for example, you had a work-related
injury that will keep you from working, or you lost your job, you were
in a serious accident, or you were diagnosed with a fatal disease, you
will have to go back to court and ask for a downward modification.
Child support arrears are not retroactive, so there is no way the court
could say, “Oh, you lost your job on this date, so your support
will be less as of that date.” The court only reduces a child support
obligation moving forward, so if you’ve had a significant change
in circumstances, it’s in your best interests to go to court immediately.
6. Can child support be changed? It is possible for child support to be raised or lowered. Usually, the
receiving parent asks to have it increased, while the paying parent asks
to have it reduced. Some reasons why it can be modified upwards or downwards
include: a job loss, a pay raise, a promotion, a change in custody, or
the child’s needs change (this often has to do with medical needs).
7. What happens if a parent does not pay child support? A lot can happen when a parent fails to pay child support and it’s
not good. If a paying parent is past-due, he or she can have their wages
garnished and their bank account seized. They can be forced to pay above
their normal payment until they catch up, and their tax refund and lottery
winnings can be taken. Their driver license can be suspended, they can
be denied a U.S. passport (if they owe more than $2,500), and they can
be held in contempt of court, which can result in jail time.
8. What is medical support? Under
federal law, child support orders must include orders for “medical support.”
Meaning, the court will order one or both parents to provide their child
with health insurance if it is available at a cost that is deemed reasonable.
Under Sections 3750 through 3753 of the
California Family Code, “health insurance” includes dental and vision coverage for children.
9. What if the parents are not married? If parents are not married at the time of the child’s birth,
paternity must be legally established in order for the biological father to have
any rights or responsibilities toward his child. Until paternity is established,
the father is not obligated to pay child support and the court cannot
order him to. At the same time, he cannot seek custody or visitation.
For a father to establish paternity, he either signs a voluntary
Declaration of Paternity form at the hospital after the child’s birth, or a DNA test is done
and if paternity is confirmed, the court establishes his paternity and
he is ordered to pay child support.
10. What if we change custody? If the children move in with the non-custodial parent or if they start
spending a lot more time at their house, it may be necessary to ask the
court to modify the existing
child custody and support orders so they reflect the actual time-sharing arrangement,
not the one in the old order.
11. Can a parent waive their right to pay child support? The only way to do this is to legally give up one’s parental rights.
Other than that, a parent cannot waive their right to pay child support
through a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.
12. Can a parent deviate from the child support guideline? Under specific circumstances, parents can deviate from the child support
guidelines and pay more or less child support than is required of them.
Generally, parents can agree on a different support amount, one that is
different from the guideline if: they know the guideline amount, they
are not on public assistance nor have they applied for it, they agree
that the amount meets the needs of their children, and a judge approves
the non-guideline amount of child support.
California’s Child Support Laws
We hope this post helped you. For legal representation in a family law matter,
contact Claery & Hammond, LLP today.