In California, both parents have an equal responsibility to support their children. This means that, regardless of who the child lives with, both parents are financially obligated to contribute to their care. Generally, child support payments last until the child turns 18 years old. However, some exceptions to the law exist, and the obligation can end before or after the child’s 18th birthday. If the paying parent fails to make payments as required, the receiving parent can file a motion for enforcement, resulting in sanctions for noncompliance. If a change in circumstances affects the ability to pay, the parent should request a modification as soon as possible to try to avoid serious penalties.
Contact Claery & Hammond, LLP at (310) 817-6904 to discuss your Los Angeles case.
How Is Child Support Determined?
Parents are encouraged to come up with a fair child support amount together. However, if they can’t agree, the court will decide for them. A judge will refer to the state’s guidelines when calculating the support amount.
Factors the judge considers include each parent’s income. Income is typically calculated by looking at gross earnings from all sources, such as salaries, tips, and commissions. If a parent is unemployed or underemployed, the judge will impute an income based on past earnings or earning potential.
The judge will also consider the parents’ time-sharing arrangement. The number of hours or days each parent spends with the child will cause support payments to increase or decrease.
Other variables affecting the support amount include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The number of children the parents have together
- The parent’s tax filing statuses
- Mandatory retirement contributions or union dues
- Daycare and health insurance costs
- Travel expenses incurred for visitation
- The special needs of the child
Sometimes, the guidelines for determining child support are a starting point. The judge may deviate from the amount if they find that doing so is in the child's best interests.
Once the judge makes a child support order, the paying parent must pay monthly according to the terms.
When Does Child Support End?
Generally, child support ends when the child turns 18 and graduates from high school. However, in some circumstances, support may continue before or after the child’s 18th birthday. For instance, if the child is disabled and unable to support themselves, both parents may be responsible for financially supporting them indefinitely.
Child support may end earlier if the child:
- Gets married,
- Joins the military,
- Gets emancipated, or
- Passes away.
However, the parents can decide to have child support continue for longer.
The Consequences of Not Paying Child Support
The paying parent can face various penalties for falling behind on or willingly stopping child support payments. First of all, they may be subject to a 10% annual interest that’s owed on top of the amount due.
Secondly, the receiving parent can file a request for enforcement with the court. If a judge finds that the paying parent has willfully disobeyed the order, they may impose a range of sanctions to force compliance.
Below are some of the possible penalties:
- Wage garnishment,
- Property liens,
- Professional or driver’s license suspension, or
- Tax interception.
In serious cases of noncompliance, the paying parent can be found in contempt, meaning they knowingly violated an order from the court. A conviction for contempt carries serious punishments, including jail time and/or fines. Because of this, it’s often only pursued after all other methods of enforcement have been unsuccessful.
Requesting a Child Support Modification
A parent may be unable to keep up with their support payment requirements for many reasons. Perhaps they have lost their job or had their hours reduced at work. Whatever the reason, the paying parent may request a child support order modification.
The parent must show that their circumstances have substantially changed to ask for a modification. For example, if they were working full-time when the existing order was issued but are now working only part-time, this may be considered a substantial change in circumstances.
If the court agrees that circumstances have substantially changed, it will consider whether the current child support order is still appropriate. The judge will look at factors like the child's needs and the parent’s ability to pay. If they determine that the existing order is no longer feasible, they will modify it accordingly. Still, the judge may find that the paying parent could afford to pay more each month, causing the amount to increase.
A modification request should be made as soon as possible after circumstances change. The paying parent is still responsible for the full support amount until the order is updated.
Turn to an Attorney for Help
Child support is essential for ensuring that resources are available to cover the costs of a child’s care and upbringing. The payments end when the child turns 18 years old or another qualifying event occurs. The duration can also vary depending on the parent’s situations and agreements. Because pursuing, modifying, or enforcing support orders can be complicated, it’s a good idea to consult with a family law lawyer about your case.Reach out to our Los Angeles lawyers at Claery & Hammond, LLP by calling (310) 817-6904 or submitting an online contact form today.