Divorce and domestic partnership dissolution get more complicated when minor children are involved. You may have figured out how you’re going to handle custody between parents, but calculating child support is another issue that you and your co-parent must resolve.
In California, child support is calculated based on the state’s guidelines in Family Code sections 4050 to 4076. That’s a lot of legalese to go through to understand what exactly you can expect based on your financial situation. The most important points of the law include:
- The top priority for California courts is to uphold the best interests of the child.
- Child support will be divided according to each parent’s actual income and the amount of time they spend with each of their minor children. The law encourages fair and efficient conflict settlements while minimizing the need for litigation.
- If the amount of child support based on income or time spent is unjust or inappropriate because of special circumstances unique to your case, courts can adjust how much support each parent will pay. The goal for any child support arrangement is to be just and appropriate, based on the principles outlined in the law.
- Courts strive to ensure that minor children get fair, timely, and sufficient support to reflect the state’s high standard of living. Child support orders also consider the high cost of raising children in California compared to other states.
California has a child support calculator on the state website, which takes into consideration your income as well as any tax situations or deductions you may have.
The only way to know for sure how much you can expect to pay for child support is to talk to a divorce lawyer or family law attorney about the unique facts of your case.
Is Child Support Mandatory in California?
The law considers a parent’s first and principal duty to be to support their minor children based on their own circumstances and station in life.
Both parents of a minor child are responsible for supporting them under the law. If you share responsibility for a child, chances are high that you must provide some form of child support. Parents are expected to support their children to the best of their ability, regardless of marital status or biological lineage. Same-sex couples have the same responsibility.
In addition, California law prefers that the financial needs of your children be met by private resources as much as possible before turning to public or governmental aid.
Is California Child Support Based on Gross or Net Income?
California child support orders are based on your net disposable income each month.
Net disposable income for each parent is calculated based on:
- Your annual gross income adjusted by
- Any allowed deductions that apply, and
- Divided by 12 to calculate payments per month.
However, this formula also considers each parent’s actual income along with their level of responsibility for taking care of the children. In addition, courts have considerable discretion in determining a parent’s gross and net income. The right advocacy on this point can make a huge difference in how much child support the court determines you owe.
For example, California courts presume that a parent with primary physical custody contributes a significant portion of their available resources to support their children. As a result, they may not be required to provide additional monetary child support.
When it comes to calculating child support orders, “income” includes:
- Salaries, wages, and commissions
- Business receipts reduced by operating expenses
- Royalties, dividends, and bonuses
- Pensions, annuities, and trust income
- Rents and interest payments
- Social security benefits
- Stock options included in compensation packages
- Unemployment or disability insurance benefits
- Employee or self-employment benefits that reduce living expenses
- Personal expenses paid by a business you own
- Spousal support from another party not involved in the child support proceedings
Calculating your income for the purpose of child support can get complicated.
The definition of income in this equation is expansive but not limitless. According to the court, your income covers money actually received, not any unrealized increases in the value of assets you own. However, this isn’t the same as cash flow – when calculating child support, your income may even include any debt forgiveness you receive.
What Does Child Support Cover in California?
Child support covers the needs of dependent children based on their parents’ standard of living. The amount of child support must provide for more than just the bare necessities.
Parents must support their children until they reach 18 years old unless the child is an unmarried and dependent full-time high school student. In such cases, parents must support children until they complete 12th grade or turn 19 years old.
Child support orders also extend to incapacitated adult children over 18 with special needs who don’t have the ability to earn a living or support themselves.
Children have the right to share in the standard of living enjoyed by both parents. That means part of child support payments could go to improving the conditions at the home where the children live, improving their lives in the process.
California child support orders may cover:
- Education expenses for children owed a duty of support
- Life maintenance such as clothing, food, housing, and healthcare costs
- Child-care costs related to a custodial parent’s job or education
- Reimbursements for public assistance paid on behalf of a child
- Past-due child support payments and arrearages
When both parents share custody and high levels of responsibility for their children, child support orders should reflect the increased costs of raising children in two separate homes. Child support can be used to minimize the disparities in each living situation.
What Is the Average Child Support Payment in California?
California does not have a cap on how much a parent may owe for child support. The amount you can expect to pay is not based on a state average but your own individual income, the income of your co-parent, and the number of children you have to support.
If you’re a high earner with a high standard of living, you can expect a much higher child support obligation than lower-income individuals. The amount you can expect to pay will be in proportion to your co-parent’s income. Your support obligations may be further complicated by issues such as income changes, unemployment versus earning capacity, and new spouses.
Child support is a complex area of California law that requires a deft and sensitive advocate to navigate. Your best option is to talk to a divorce lawyer or family law attorney about your case. A legal expert can help you successfully navigate your child support situation.