California Child Support Basics

Under California law, both parents are expected to financially support their child, even after a legal separation or divorce. In the event that a couple splits up or files for divorce, one of the parents will be expected to pay child support to the other parent, even if they are no longer living together as a couple.

Technically, child support is ordered by the court and one or both parents can be ordered to pay it depending on who the child lives with most of the time. The child support is supposed to help with the child’s living expenses, such as food, shelter, and clothing.

Both parents are equally responsible for financially supporting their child. However, the California courts do not enforce this duty until a legal action is filed with the court and it makes an order for child support.

If you recently separated from your child’s other parent and you want child support, you will have to ask the court to make an order for child support. How this action proceeds will depend upon whether you are married to the other parent or not.

In California, child support is paid until a child turns 18, or until 19 if the teenager is still in high school, living at home with their parent, and unable to support themselves.

As parents know, children generally graduate high school when they are 18 or 19, it all depends upon their birthday and at what age they started kindergarten and whether they were held back at any point while attending school.

Child Support and Family Law Cases

These days when parents split, the children can live with their mother or father, especially since we have more stay at home fathers than ever before. That said, either parent can ask the judge to order child support. Child support is ordered in the following types of family law cases:

In addition to the above, child support can be ordered when parents file a Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children. These petitions are filed by unmarried parents who signed a voluntary Declaration of Paternity, and by registered domestic partners and married parents who do not want to legally separate or divorce.

Asking the Court for Child Support

If you wish to have a child support order, you or the other parent will need to ask for such an order from the court. How you go about doing this will depend on whether you already have a family law case, or if you are starting a new case (this is the first time).

Are you married to your child’s parent? Or, do you have a domestic partnership? The type of case you start will depend on your answers to these questions.

If you are married to your child’s other parent, or if you’re registered domestic partners, you can ask for child support in: 1) an annulment, 2) as part of a legal separation, or 3) as part of a divorce case.

You can also ask for child support in a domestic violence case where you have asked for a domestic violence restraining order against your child’s other parent. If you are asking for a restraining order, you want to make sure that when you fill out the restraining order papers, that you’re also requesting a child custody order.

If you are not married to your child’s other parent, you can ask for child support in a paternity case. In a paternity case, the court may request a DNA test from the presumed father to ensure that he is the child’s biological father.

DNA tests are usually necessary when a presumed father has not signed a voluntary Declaration of Paternity, or when the presumed father is not sure that he is the child’s father.

When You Don’t Want a Divorce

Perhaps you are married but you do not want to get legally separated or divorced. In that case, you will start another type of family law case called a Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children. This type of action allows the court to order child support, even though you are not asking for a legal separation or divorce at this point in time.

How is child support calculated?

California follows a statewide formula when it comes to “calculating” how much child support is to be paid. If the parents do not agree on a monthly child support amount, a judge will determine the child support based on the guideline calculation.

The child support amount is based on a number factors, such as:

  • Each parent’s income, or earning capacity,
  • The number of children the parents have together,
  • How much time each parent has with their children,
  • Each parent’s tax filing status,
  • Any children from other relationships,
  • Childcare and uninsured healthcare costs for the children, and
  • Other relevant factors.

Since raising children involve other expenses, a child support order may address other financial issues or obligations, such as a child’s educational needs, childcare, uninsured medical expenses, who pays for travel-related expenses while the child visits the other parent, and other necessary expenses.

Child Support Modifications

Can child support be modified? Yes, sometimes it can be modified upwards or downwards. Usually, for a parent to have the court change the monthly child support obligation, the petitioning party must be able to show a “significant change in circumstances.”

A significant change in circumstances would be related to a change in a parent’s income, a change in the other parent’s income, or a change in how much time each parent spends with the child.

If you are interested in asking for a child support order, or having an existing order changed, please contact a Los Angeles child support lawyer from Claery & Hammond, LLP.