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Do I Have to Pay Child Support if I Have 50/50 Custody?

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Just 20 years ago, family courts across the country were inclined to award custody to the mother. In these cases, the father was the noncustodial parent and he would pay child support. However, much has changed in the last two decades.

These days, California’s family courts no longer assume that the mother is the better fit when it comes to being the “primary custodial parent.” Fathers are given equal consideration when there is a dispute over child custody. Why the sweeping change? It has a lot to do with the number of women who are in the workforce.

“Are there really that many women participating in the labor force?” Absolutely. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), “Women’s participation in the U.S. labor force has climbed since WWII: from 32.7 percent in 1948 to 56.8 percent in 2016.” What’s more, “Seventy percent of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force, with over 75 percent employed full-time,” says the DOL.

“Mothers are the primary or sole earners for 40 percent of households with children under 18 today, compared with 11 percent in 1960.” Now that’s food for thought.

While we don’t know the exact statistics in California, one can only imagine that those numbers may be even higher here. Not because California moms necessarily want to work and be away from their kids, but because the cost of living is so high, they have no choice but to work full-time so they can pay the mortgage.

The number of women in the workforce has definitely impacted child custody in recent years, especially in areas where the cost of living is high. In many ways, equality for women has led to equality for fathers – it’s leveled the playing field in family law cases. This shift has led the California family courts to move away from sole custody arrangements and instead encourage joint custody more than ever before.

“Courts do not automatically give custody to the mother or the father, no matter what the age or sex of your children. Courts cannot deny your right to custody or visitation just because you were never married to the other parent, or because you or the other parent has a physical disability or a different lifestyle, religious belief, or sexual orientation,” according to the California Courts.

The Era of Joint Custody

We have entered the era of joint custody arrangements, and for many families it makes perfect sense. If anything, history has taught us that when one parent has primary custody and the other parent has “visitation,” it’s easy for fathers to become victims of parental alienation. We say this because up until recently, mothers were usually the ones to become the custodial parent in divorce cases.

Children need both parents to play active roles in their lives, assuming the parents are loving and not abusive. But when one parent has primary custody, sometimes the noncustodial parent eventually fades out of the picture. When this happens, it hurts the noncustodial parent but more importantly, it hurts the kids, who deserve to have both of their parents in their lives. Divorce should NOT destroy a parent-child relationship.

So, to combat this ever-looming threat, the California courts started presuming that a joint custody arrangement is ideal unless it’s not practical for some reason. If you’re considering a 50/50 joint custody arrangement, you may be wondering, “Will one of us have to pay child support if we have joint custody?” We get this question a lot and as a matter of fact, it’s one area where there’s a lot of confusion, which we’ll clear up below.

Does Joint Custody Mean No Child Support?

Suppose you and your spouse are leaning toward a joint custody arrangement. You are both going to live in the same school zone, so sharing the children will be convenient. Will child support still be necessary? After all, it doesn’t seem fair if you’re both dividing your time with the children equally.

Here’s how it works: If one parent makes more money than the other parent (which is typical), the higher-earning parent may still have to pay some child support, or he or she may have to share in some of the costs, such as extracurricular activities, uninsured medical costs, and childcare costs so the other parent can work.

Let’s say you’re the higher-earning parent, but you will have the children more often than the other parent. Will this arrangement affect how much child support you have to pay? Here is your answer:

“The amount of time that the children are with you is a factor in calculating child support. And, as a general rule, the more time you have your children, the less child support you will have to pay because you are spending more money to support that child when that child is in your home. The court considers the actual amount of time you spend with the child, not just what is ordered.

“But the child support formula is complicated and it does not always work out this way. Other factors, like the other parent’s income and whether or not he or she receives public assistance, can end up making your child support the same (or even more) even if you have the children more often,” according to the California Courts.

We hope this article has answers your questions. If you need legal representation with a divorce, child support or child custody matter, don’t hesitate to contact our firm to schedule a free consultation with a Los Angeles child custody attorney.

Related: What is Medical Support in California?


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