Divorce can be complicated, and when there are children involved, it can be even more complex. In a divorce where spouses have children together, both are responsible for the care of those children, including financially.
Child support is a necessary part of childcare after divorce. Though it can be overwhelming, understanding how child support is calculated in California can help you and your ex-spouse make informed decisions about your future and the future of your children.
What Is Child Support?
Child support is a portion of one parent’s income that’s paid to the other parent, or a portion of income that both parents must pay, to provide for the care of their children. Most often, this is done through monthly payments, and the amount of child support is calculated based on factors such as children’s needs, each parent’s income, and how much time each parent has with the children.
Divorce is already a financially difficult time, and the prospect of paying child support can make matters difficult between parties. The parent ordered to pay child support may feel that they are being asked to give too much, while the receiving parent may feel unable to cover the needs of their children. Understanding how California courts determine the amount of child support can hopefully help both parties gain some peace about the outcome.
Understanding the Purpose of Child Support
The biggest thing to remember during a divorce is that all decisions are made with the child’s best interests in mind. This includes child custody, visitation, and child support. Both parents are obligated to provide care for their children.
The purpose of child support is to provide children with the same standard of living in both households. If one spouse has a higher income than the other, child support is meant to lower the impact of this difference on their children. Child support determination, in most cases, follows a specific formula and guidelines to efficiently decide the minimum amount of child support.
How Child Support Is Calculated
California judges look at the total income of each parent and the percentage of time each parent spends with their children. The court also looks at the age of the children and how that impacts their financial needs. Older children generally need less support than younger children. The specific healthcare needs of the children are also considered.
Even before you are in court, you can determine what the amount of child support will likely be using the state’s formula or an online calculator. Be aware that additional external factors can impact child support, and calculators are only as accurate as the information used in them. An experienced child support attorney can give more accurate and nuanced information.
Difference in Income
Both parents must fill out an Income and Expense Declaration and provide proof of income. This is how the court will make decisions about child support based on income. The higher-earning parent will usually pay a set amount to the lower-earning parent. If both parties make similar amounts, child support may still be required, but the amount could be lower.
The income shares model is the formula California uses to decide child support amounts. The court assesses several sources of income and expenses, including:
- Net income, or income after taxes
- Mandatory retirement contributions
- Self-employment earnings
- Unemployment benefits
- Disability and worker’s compensation benefits
- Mandatory union dues
- Health premiums
- Social Security or pensions
- Costs of raising children in another relationship
- Current payments toward previous spousal or child support orders
- Dividends, stocks, and investments
- Mortgage and property taxes
Difference in the Amount of Time Spent With the Children
If one parent spends a significantly larger amount of time with the children, they are likely to receive higher child support payments. This is because they will have to deal with more childcare expenses.
If each parent spends equal time with their children, it will likely result in lower child support payments. However, even having 50/50 custody and equal incomes doesn’t necessarily mean neither of you will have to pay child support.
Q: Does California Consider the Mother’s Income for Child Support?
A: The total net income of each parent is looked at and used for child support determinations. This determination is not based on the gender of either parent but on the difference between their income and timeshare percentage. Both parents are obligated to have shared responsibility for the care and raising of their children.
Q: What Does Child Support Cover?
A: Expenses considered when determining child support are primarily food, clothing, shelter, and education. Healthcare and health insurance, back payments and their interest, travel costs, extracurricular activities, and other specific needs for your child are also considered.
Though these costs are considered when determining support, that doesn’t mean the paying parent is paying for 100% of those costs. Both parents have a responsibility to cover expenses. Parents can also decide to add other expenses to child support, even if those expenses aren’t court ordered.
Q: How Long Does Child Support Last?
A: Unless the court orders short-term child support, child support payments continue until your children are 18 years old and have graduated high school, or are 19 years old, or until they are married or join the military, whichever comes first. Child support also ends if the child passes away. If your child is an adult but can’t support themself, the court may order both parents to continue financial support.
Q: Can Child Support Orders Be Modified?
A: While child support is being determined, judges must understand the unique factors of your specific situation, and those factors could increase or decrease standard payments. If there is a change in circumstances for children or their parents, such as a change in income, a custody change, or a sudden medical condition for either a parent or a child, the child support payments will also likely change.
Advocating for Fair Child Support
Even in amicable relationships between parties, the legal complexities of divorce, child custody, and child support cases are very difficult. It’s made even harder when you have to deal with day-to-day activities on top of an emotionally distressing legal process.
You want an attorney who is qualified to handle all the aspects of your divorce and child support case and understands how it can impact your family. Contact our experienced family law attorneys at the Law Office of Stephanie J. Squires, and we can help walk you through the legal processes.