California's Child Support Laws

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.