In California, both parents are obligated to financially support their children until they turn 18-years-of-age, or graduate high school, whichever happens later. Even in 50/50 joint custody situations, the higher-earning parent can be ordered to pay child support.
So, if you are ordered to pay child support, you can expect to pay it until your child becomes a legal adult or graduates high school. If your child is still in high school when he or she turns 19, you’ll be on the hook for child support until they graduate.
Child support can also end under the following circumstances:
- The child gets married. In California, you have to be at least 18-years-of-age to get married. If your child is still in high school but they get married at 18, you are no longer responsible for child support;
- The child registers in a domestic partnership;
- The child joins the military;
- The child is legally emancipated. In California, youth as young as 14 can get emancipated. To get a declaration of emancipation from a judge, the child cannot want to live with their parents, their parents must not mind if the child moves out, the child must be able to handle their own money, the child must have a legal way to earn a living, and the emancipation must be good for the child; OR
- The child passes away.
What if My Circumstances Change?
Suppose your circumstances change significantly since the original child support order went into effect. Perhaps you lose your job. Perhaps your hours are cut in half. Perhaps you are injured in a workplace accident or a car accident. Or, perhaps you become permanently disabled, or sick with a long-term or terminal disease. How would these issues impact your child support obligation? Would it terminate?
Losing a job does not terminate your obligation to pay child support, nor does getting sick with MS or Stage 4 cancer. Unfortunately, though, a lot of people don’t understand this and when they become unemployed or file a workers’ compensation claim, they automatically assume that since they’re not gainfully employed, they don’t have to pay child support.
Noncustodial parents pretty much have to pay child support until their children turn 18 or graduate high school and unless one of the above exceptions apply (the child joins the Armed Forces, the child becomes emancipated, the child marries, or the child dies). Even if a paying parent starts receiving certain types of benefits, there is a very good chance that those benefits can be taken for child support arrears.
Let’s take a closer look at what types of benefits can be taken for child support:
Workers’ Compensation Benefits
If someone is injured on the job, he or she may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits in an amount that is less than their average weekly wage before the accident. Since workers’ compensation benefits can be significantly less than what the worker was earning before, their income can be reduced by a lot. For individuals living check to check, this can make it difficult for them to keep up with their child support payments.
Can child support be taken from workers’ compensation? Yes, absolutely. Child support can be garnished from parents’ workers’ compensation benefits to pay for the basic needs of their children, which do not end because a parent is injured in a workplace accident.
A lot of parents assume that if they’re out of work, they’re not obligated to pay child support but in reality, it’s the opposite of that. Child support payments can be withheld from a parent’s unemployment compensation.
Child support is not only withheld from a person’s “employment income,” it can also be garnished from unemployment income. Additionally, it can even be garnished from checks paid by companies that employ “independent contractors.”
Social Security Disability Benefits
Like workers’ compensation and unemployment, Social Security Disability (SSDI) income can be garnished for child support because it is counted as income for the purpose of paying child support. “But what about SSI, can that be taken for child support?” No, SSI cannot be garnished for paying child support because that is prohibited by federal law. To learn more, click here.
What Else Can Be Taken for Child Support?
If you fall behind on your child support payments, the local child support agency has a number of collection tools at their disposal. The child support agency can do this to you:
- Your income can be withheld through an income withholding order
- You can be subject to automatic income withholding
- Your bank accounts can be levied
- Your 401k can be garnished
- Your licenses can be suspended, including a business and driver license
- Liens can be placed on your property, including your home
- Your tax refund can be intercepted
- If you owe more than $2,500, you will be denied a U.S. passport
- You can be held in contempt, fined and jailed
- The arrears can be reported on your credit
What Are My Options?
If you lose your job or become disabled, our advice is to contact our firm to file a motion with the court requesting a downward modification. You don’t want to delay because child support is not retroactive. Meaning, you’ll continue to owe the full amount until you get the court to approve your modification petition.
If your modification is approved by the court, your child support obligation may be reduced to reflect your current income status. This can mean a huge savings to you, so it’s well worth finding out if you’re eligible to reduce your support obligation.