FAQs About Child Support in California

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 questions below.

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.

How do child support payments start?

In California, child support payments are usually preceded by a paternity action, a legal separation, or by a divorce action.

When does child support end in California?

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.

Do I have to pay for college expenses with child support?

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 prenuptial agreements, 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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

What is medical support?

Under state and 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.

How does child support work 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.

What happens to child support 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.

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.

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.

Related: California’s Child Support Laws

We hope this post helped you. For legal representation in a family law matter, contact Claery & Hammond, LLP today.