California has a statewide uniform child support guideline in accordance with federal regulations. Key underlying principles given in Section 4053 of the California Family Code include:
- A parent’s first and principal obligation is to support his or her minor children according to the parent’s circumstances and station in life.
- Both parents are mutually responsible for the support of their children.
- The guideline takes into account each parent’s actual income and level of responsibility for the children.
- Each parent should pay for the support of the children according to his or her ability.
- The guideline seeks to place the interests of children as the state’s top priority.
- Children should share in the standard of living of both parents.
- The financial needs of the children should be met through private financial resources as much as possible.
- The amount of child support calculated under the guideline is presumed to be correct in all cases and only under special circumstances should child support court orders fall below the child support mandated by the guideline formula.
Child Support Guideline
Under the child support guideline formula, the following key factors determine the calculated amount:
- number of children;
- timeshare percentage with each child by each parent;
- net, after-tax income of each parent.
Note that living expenses of the parents are not a part of the formula. Neither is income from a parent’s new spouse or partner except to the limited extent it affects the taxes paid by the parent.
The special circumstances under which support can deviate from the child support guideline formula are given in section 4057 of the Family Code. These include when the parents agree to a different amount. When parents agree to a lesser amount, they must assure the court:
- They are fully informed of their rights concerning child support;
- They have agreed without coercion or duress;
- The agreement is in the children’s best interests;
- The children’s needs will be adequately met by the lesser amount; and
- The right to support has not been assigned to the county (as a result of financial assistance received) and no application for public assistance is pending.
The child support guideline amount does not include the following costs, which are considered to be add-ons. The first three are considered mandatory and the last two are discretionary:
- health insurance for the children;
- unreimbursed, out-of-pocket health care expenses for the children;
- child care costs, if required to enable a parent to work or train for work;
- educational or special needs of the children;
- travel expenses a parent incurs to visit the children.
In the context of a divorce, child support can begin as early as the date of the divorce petition.
A child is entitled to support until the child reaches 19, or reaches 18 and is not a full-time high school student, or dies, or marries, or becomes self-supporting, whichever occurs first. If the parents agree, child support can be paid past the age of 19. Support for a disabled child who is unable to work can be extended so long as the disability lasts.