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Is There a Limit on Child Support in California?

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If you live in California, child support payments can be limited in terms of the percentage of the paying parent’s income, but not an actual dollar amount. This means that child support payments are based on both parents’ income and how much more the higher-earning parent makes, but there is no law that caps child support at any specific dollar amount.

Calculating child support in California is no small task, and there’s no way to pinpoint what the court will order until the judge issues a decision. That said, you can get a general idea of what you may pay or receive in child support by considering the Income Shares Model.

What Is the Income Shares Model?

The Income Shares Model is a method used by California to estimate child support. It works by multiplying a presumptive child support obligation by the noncustodial parent’s share of both parents’ combined income.

Here is an example of how the Income Shares Model can work:

  • The noncustodial parent makes $4,000 per month
  • The custodial parent makes $2,000 per month
  • Together, they make $6,000 per month
  • The noncustodial parent contributes about 66% of the parents’ combined income
  • The court determines that basic child support is $800 plus $100 in monthly childcare expenses ($900 total)
  • The noncustodial parent’s child support obligation is 66% of $900, or about $600 per month

The model also works if the incomes of each parent were switched. If the custodial parent was the higher earner, then in this example the noncustodial parent’s child support obligation would be about $300 (33% of $900).

Other Factors Can Affect the Final Amount of Child Support

Although the Income Shares Model can give you a general idea of what child support may look like in your situation, other factors can affect the actual outcome.

One of these factors is how much time each parent spends with their child, while others include property tax, mortgage interest, union dues, and other financial obligations that reduce a parent’s disposable income.

If you want to see a more realistic picture of what your child support could look like, you might want to use California’s child support calculator. Again, however, take whatever amount online tools like this give you with a grain of salt. There’s a lot that goes into determining child support, and a judge’s discretion for what they think is in your child’s best interest is a major wildcard to consider.

Can I Change the Amount of Child Support?

You may be able to alter the amount of child support you pay or receive by petitioning the court for a modification. Generally speaking, the court will only consider such a petition if either parent’s financial situation or a child’s needs have significantly changed.

Regardless of whether you’re seeking to pay less child support or receive more, keep in mind that a petition to modify it can result in a modification contrary to your goal. This is why filing a petition in good faith is always the best approach.

When Can I Stop Paying Child Support?

In California, an obligation to pay child support usually ends when a child turns 18 years old. If they turn 18 while they’re in high school, then an obligation to pay child support ends when they graduate or turn 19 – whichever comes first. If a child dies, then the support obligation for that child also ends.

Under no other circumstances should you stop paying child support. Failure to pay results in accruing child support debt that you can’t eject in bankruptcy. You will also accrue interest (10% annually) and penalties on that debt, which can skyrocket the amount on your arrears.

Consistent failure to pay child support can also result in misdemeanor criminal charges. Although a conviction can result in fines, a judge is more likely to order jail time because any money used for a fine could go toward your unpaid child support instead.

Do You Need Help with Child Support?

Child support is one of the most contentious family law issues, perhaps second only to child custody. Like child custody, disputes over child support come up over the years – sometimes when you need them the least.

If you’re dealing with a child support matter at an inconvenient time, you can reach out to our legal team at Claery & Hammond, LLP for experienced legal support. Our attorneys can assess your situation and offer legal advice and services to help you resolve your child support challenge.

For more information about our assistance, contact us online today and request a free initial consultation.


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