Parents are obligated to support their children, whether the parents are married or not. California law requires that each parent maintain their child based on their respective circumstances and stations in life. When a judge signs off on a child support order, it is legally binding until the child marries, dies, emancipates, or turns 18, except when the 18-year-old is still in high school and living with a parent. In that case, a child support order is in effect until the child graduates or turns 19.
Child support payments do not have to cover all of the children's expenses but are meant to ensure that the costs of daily living are covered. The well-being of the child is the first priority for California family courts.
How Child Support is Calculated in California
California provides a somewhat mechanical way of approaching child support. The state has adopted a mathematical formula that serves as a guide for making child support awards. The formula is known as the Statewide Uniform Guideline and has been implemented in support calculation software such as DissoMaster and XSpouse that courts and attorneys use. Under the Statewide Uniform Guideline, child support is calculated based upon many factors, including:
- the number of children in the family,
- the income of each parent,
- the physical custody (timeshare) arrangement,
- health insurance costs,
- union dues,
- the tax filing status of each parent, and
- each parent's respective tax-deductible expenses.
The court may deviate from guideline child support if the circumstances of the case call for it. Possible grounds for doing so are that one parent has extraordinarily high income, the children have special needs or medical issues, or the parents have different time-sharing arrangements for different children. However, the court is only allowed to do so if they state, in writing or on the record, the amount of child support that would have been ordered under the guideline formula, the reason the amount of child support ordered differs from the guideline formula, and the reasons the amount of child support ordered is in the best interests of the children.
Parents may also agree to non-guideline child support so long as they both are fully informed, the child support agreement is reached without duress or coercion, and the amount of child support agreed upon is in the best interests of the children.
There is no maximum or minimum amount of child support in California. The law does provide, however, that a child is entitled to sustain a lifestyle that is similar to that of his or her parents. Of course, the final word on child support is up to the judge, who will consider the individual facts of each case.
Additional Support for Children
The court may order parents to pay certain expenses for their children as additional child support. Expenses such as child care costs related to employment, education, or job training, and reasonable uninsured health care costs for the children are mandatory child support “add-on” items, while expenses for the children's education or special needs, and travel expenses for visits are discretionary child support “add-on” items. These types of expenses are generally allocated equally to each parent unless either parent requests a different apportionment and presents evidence as to why a different apportionment would be appropriate.
Health Insurance for Children
In any case in which an amount is set for child support, the court must require the parents to provide health insurance coverage for their children if it is available to them at no cost or reasonable cost to them through their employment.
Supporting a Child from a Previous Relationship
California courts want to observe prior support obligations. Child support orders fully consider each parent's financial situation, which would include the maintenance of children from previous relationships.
If parents decide to remarry, they are still on the hook for supporting their children. Typically, courts will not modify a formal child support order based solely on the fact that there is a new source of income from a new spouse or partner.
Multiple children from different partnerships can get complicated. It can be helpful to speak with an attorney about how these relationships will impact your present situation.
California Penalties for Failure to Pay Child Support
If a parent intentionally fails to comply with court-ordered child support, the parent can be held in contempt of court. This means that the parent could be held civilly and criminally liable. Penalties in California can include fines, jail time, garnished wages, denial of a driver's license, refusal to issue a passport, a lien placed on the person's property, and negative treatment of the person's credit rating.
Child support payments that are in arrears accrue interest at 10% per year. Typically, California courts are very strict with enforcing child support arrears. California courts also do not typically support a waiver of arrears, even if both parents agree to it.
Child Support Modifications in California
Child support orders are created based on the circumstances that are first presented to the family court judge. Over time, financial circumstances can change. Likewise, child custody arrangements along with a child's needs and expenses can change.
If a parent needs to modify the initial child support and does not have the consent of the other parent, he or she will need to file for a modification and establish with the judge that a material change in circumstances has occurred. In most situations, it is advisable to seek modifications as soon as there has been a dramatic shift in circumstances.
Resourceful & Effective Child Support Attorney in Contra Costa County
Parents naturally have questions and concerns about child support. Attorney Jaime L. Kissinger has experience establishing fair and equitable child support arrangements for families in Contra Costa, Alameda, and Solano counties. Contact our office for an initial consultation and immediate legal support.