When a couple has children together and they separate or divorce, both
parents continue to be responsible for financially supporting their children.
Even if the children live most, if not all of the time with one parent,
the other parent is still legally required to help support the children.
So, you may divorce your husband or wife, but it does not absolve you
of supporting your children.
Both parents are “equally responsible” for providing for their
children’s needs. They are equally responsible for ensuring the
children have food, shelter, clothing, medical care, love, and emotional
support. However, there is no way for the family courts to enforce a parent’s
obligation to support their children until the court makes a child support order.
Suppose you are separating from your spouse with a
divorce on the horizon. One of you must ask the court to start a
child support case. Under California law, child support is paid until a child turns
18, or 19 if the child is still enrolled in high school full time, living
at home, or if the child is unable to support themselves for some reason.
Either parent can ask the court to make a child support order as long as
it pertains to one of the following cases:
California’s Child Support Guidelines
How much child support does a parent have to pay? How does California calculate
child support? California uses a statewide formula, referred to as a “guideline”
to determine how much child support a parent is supposed to pay.
If the parents are breaking up or divorcing, they can try and work out
a child support agreement. However, if the parents cannot reach an agreement
on child support, the judge will step in and decide based on California’s
child support guidelines.
The guideline amount relies on these factors:
- How much money each parent earns
- How much money each parent can earn
- Each parent’s actual income
- How many children the couple have together
- How much time the children spend with each parent
- The tax filing status of both parents
- If either parent is supporting children from other relationships
- The costs of health insurance
- Any mandatory contributions for retirement
- The shared costs of childcare and uninsured healthcare expenses
- Other relevant factors
As a parent, please be aware that the courts can order parents to share
in other expenses; the courts can require that child support helps cover
additional costs; for example, childcare so the custodial parent can work
or schooling to gain work skills, the children’s healthcare expenses,
the children’s education, travel so the child can visit from one
parent to the other, and other special needs.
To learn more, check out the
California Guideline Child Support Calculator.
Child support is based on a parent’s “net disposable income.”
Meaning, child support is based on the paying parent’s income, after
state and federal deductions have been made. The court has the power to
make an order for support based on a parent’s overtime, bonuses
and commissions, as well as other supplemental income. For example, income
from a side hustle.
The following types of income are NOT counted when calculating child support:
Supplemental Security Income, General Assistance/Relief, and CalWORKS.
Time-Sharing and Child Support
When the court is calculating child support, it takes into consideration
how much time the children are spending with each parent – timesharing.
To do this, the court compares how much time each parent spends having
primary physical responsibility for their children. In other words, the
court calculates how many hours a day the parents spend with their children.
As a general rule, the child support reduces as the time-sharing increases.
When a Parent Falls Behind on Child Support
Unfortunately, people can fall on hard times and they can have trouble
paying their child support payments. This often happens when a parent
loses their job, their employer reduces their hours, or the parent is
in an accident or gets sick. If a parent falls behind on their child support
payments, a string of negative events can follow.
For starters, the law requires interest to be added to the arrears and
there’s nothing a judge can do to stop them. Currently, the interest
rate is 10% per a year for child support that accrued after January 1,
1983. If you fall past-due on your child support obligation, the court
can order a wage garnishment.
If this happens, it could include an amount that is above and beyond your
regular monthly child support obligation. This amount, called a “liquidation
amount,” is put towards your arrears. Even if you’re chipping
away at your arrears through installment payments, the interest will continue
to be tacked on to your balance.
If you do NOT pay child support, you can face harsh consequences. If you
willfully failed to pay child support even though you had the financial
ability, you can be found in “contempt of court,” which could
mean an arrest and incarceration. However, the courts usually only use
this tool when all other enforcement efforts have failed.
Other possible consequences of not paying child support:
- Bank levy
- Tax refund intercept
- Driver license suspension
- Lottery winnings intercept
- Denial of U.S. passport
If you are having trouble paying child support, you can ask the court for
a downward modification. However, if the modification is approved, it
is not retroactive. So, it’s important that if there is ever a change
in your material circumstances, that you file a petition for a downward
modification with the court immediately. Otherwise, your arrears will
continue to add-up.
Searching for a Los Angeles child support attorney?
Contact Claery & Hammond, LLP for a free case evaluation.