Child support must be addressed in any divorce involving minor children. California has a guideline child support calculator and extensive laws governing child support administered mainly by the California Department of Child Support Services.
Absent unusual circumstances, the calculated figure is legally “presumed to be correct” and is normally what a judge would order. The calculator considers these main factors:
- number of children;
- timeshare percentage each parent has with each child;
- each parent’s net, after-tax income.
Parents can however agree to a different amount – say on their own or in divorce mediation – and the court will nearly always accept this. If you agree on a lower amount, in your court paperwork you must assure the court:
- You are fully informed of your rights (aware of the guideline figure) and have agreed to the lower amount without coercion or duress;
- The agreement is in the children’s best interests and will adequately meet their needs; and
- The receiving parent does not have a pending application for public benefits and has not already given over to the county their right to receive child support (as a result of public financial assistance received).
The guideline figure does not include certain “add-on” costs below. The first three are mandatory (must be addressed) 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 either parent to work or train for work;
- educational or special needs costs for the children;
- travel expenses a parent incurs to visit the children.
In a divorce, court-ordered 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 happens first. If the parents agree, child support can be paid past the age of 19. Support for a disabled child who cannot work can be extended as long as the disability lasts.
Some of the underlying principles of child support are:
- A parent’s first obligation is to support their children because the children’s interests are the state’s top priority.
- Both parents are responsible for the financial support of their children.
- Children should share in the standard of living of both parents.
- The children’s needs should be met through private rather than public funds as much as possible.
As a result, the guideline calculation does not take into account the living expenses of each parent. Often, however, when parents negotiate their own child support figure, they will take each of their living expenses into account.
Child support can never be legally permanently fixed at a certain amount. This is because the law recognizes that important circumstances can change (incomes, timeshare percentage, etc.) that could affect the interests of the children.
It is a major problem that a large percentage of court-ordered child support is not paid. You generally have a better chance of making child support payments stick if you work out the child support amount yourselves – taking into account the needs and resources of all concerned.