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Do Women Have to Pay Child Support in California?

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In the 1980s and 1990s, the concept of a woman paying child support to her ex-husband was almost unheard of. But as more women graduate from college and build successful, lucrative careers, the more that is changing.

These days, we are seeing more stay-at-home fathers than ever before. We’re seeing fathers getting laid off and staying home with the kids, and dads giving up their careers purposely. And while men still tend to out-earn their wives, that trend is slowly changing. In some households, wives are in fact earning more, sometimes a lot more, than their husbands.

When Men Become Stay-At-Home Fathers

This is a common scenario: A husband is downsized from his job. Prior to that, the man and his wife were paying a small fortune for childcare, so together, the couple decided the husband would stay home and care for the couple’s children full-time. Meanwhile, the wife’s career takes off.

While the wife’s success is great for the couple’s bank accounts and marital estate, it’s not necessarily good for their marriage. He begins to resent her success, and she loses respect for him because he hasn’t earned any money in years. The marriage just stops working, and the couple decides to split.

One day, the couple is casually discussing their impending divorce and the husband brings up child support – his comment throws his wife for a loop. Will she have to pay her husband child support?

Professional Moms & Child Support

The mother in the example above is a professional, successful woman. She always assumed that fathers paid child support, but her husband has been out of the workforce for several years. Suddenly, she’s surprised to think she may be on the hook for child support. Is this an absolute? Do women in these situations always end up paying their husbands child support? Or, is there another option?

In California, both parents are legally obligated to financially support their children until they turn 18, but if the child is still in high school, the parents have to support their child until they turn 19 or graduate high school, whichever happens first.

Will the professional mother have to pay child support? It depends on the custody arrangement and each parent’s income. If she gets sole physical custody, then she would not be paying child support, but if the father has been a stay-at-home father it’s unlikely that she’ll be getting sole physical custody, unless the father had been abusive and there is a history of domestic violence.

As a general rule, the California courts encourage both parents to be actively involved in their children’s lives and upbringing. So, if the father were to get joint legal and physical custody, it is possible that the mother will have to pay him child support, but it depends on who has the kids more often, and who earns more money.

What if the Parents Get Joint Custody?

Let’s say the mother and father get joint physical custody of the kids, still using the above example of the professional mother and the stay-at-home father. However, the father, who has a bachelor’s degree, goes back to work. Now, he shares almost equal custody with his ex-wife, but he earns $75,000 a year and she earns $150,000 a year. In this case, does the professional mother still have to pay child support to her ex-husband?

Whenever one party earns more money than their ex-husband or wife, they may still have to pay some child support, or they may be required to share some costs, such as uninsured medical costs and childcare so their ex can work. Even if the parties have 50/50 custody, it is still possible for the higher-earner to have to pay child support.

What if the Mother Has the Kids More Often?

“What if I’m the mother in this situation and I out earn my ex-husband, but I have the children more often than he does? Do I still have to pay some child support?” One of the factors in calculating child support is how much time you spend with your children.

As a general rule, the more time the children spend with you, the less child support you have to pay to your ex-husband because you spend more money to support your children when they are with you, in your home.

When the court is considering child support, it will consider the actual amount of time your children are in your home, not just what is in the order. However, bear in mind that the child support formula is complicated, and without knowing the specifics of your case, we cannot guarantee that’s how it’s going to work out.

There are other factors, such as your ex-husband’s income, and whether or not he will be receiving public assistance, that can keep your child support the same, or more, even if the children actually live with you more often than your ex-husband.

What About Spousal Support?

Even if you do not end up paying child support, that does not mean that you will not have to pay spousal support. If you earn a very good living and you earn significantly more than your husband and you can afford to pay spousal support, it is possible that the court will order you to pay spousal support.

If your husband ends up getting full custody of the children, or if he gets the kids more than you do and you earn significantly more than he does, there is a strong possibility that you will be on the hook for spousal support and child support.

Next: What Rights Do Stay at Home Dads Have?

Are you a professional mother who is getting a divorce in Los Angeles? To meet with an experienced and compassionate member of our legal team, contact us today!


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