Child support is the amount of money required to help pay for the care and support of a child once two parents separate. No matter what state you live in, there are laws and regulations surrounding child support, including how it’s calculated and enforced and how you can modify it over time.
In California, either parent can ask for child support from the other via court order or through a local child support agency (LCSA). Still, regardless of who petitions the court, both parents are equally responsible for providing financial support for their child.
Navigating the court system and knowing how to calculate a fair child support agreement can be very complex and confusing. In addition, parents are also often concerned with the emotional well-being of their children, along with their financial support moving forward.
According to California law, both parents must contribute to the financial support of their children until they are 18 (or 19 in some cases). How each parent contributes may vary depending on many factors. It doesn’t always mean one parent has to pay child support to the other parent.
Still, children have a “right to care,” and the Constitution protects that. That means parents cannot agree to waive child support because it would impact the child’s right to care and financial support.
While you can’t agree to waive child support altogether, parents can choose to come to an agreement that involves lowering or modifying child support payments. That way, child support is affordable and still covers the child’s needs.
Like most states, California has a standard guideline that lays out how to calculate child support and how much each parent owes toward the care of their child. Parents can work together to come to an agreement (either on their own or through mediation), but the court still has to approve the support amount.
If the parents can’t agree on child support, a judge will use the state’s formula to determine child support payments. In some cases, the judge may deviate from the guidelines, but those situations are minimal.
California guidelines use a lot of different information to calculate child support. That’s because it’s in the state’s interest to be fair to both parents while ensuring the child’s needs will be met now and in the future.
The judge may consider some of these factors to determine child support payments:
- Present income
- Future earnings or earning potential
- Outside income
- How many children the parents have together
- How much time each parent spends with the child
- Tax filing status
- Child support for other children (from other relationships)
- Healthcare costs and health insurance
- Union dues (mandatory)
- Retirement contributions (mandatory)
- Childcare costs
- Other factors
Parents can use the California Guideline Child Support Calculator to estimate how much child support a judge may order in their specific case.
In any case, the court will primarily consider two of the factors mentioned: the parents’ income and how much time each parent physically spends with the child (timeshare).
Child support can be decided as part of a divorce and child custody agreement, but a judge will still have to approve it. That’s to ensure parents don’t agree on support arrangements that aren’t in the child’s best interest.
Aside from that, child support can also be decided through mediation or litigation. Mediation uses a neutral forum to work together to create a child support arrangement that’s fair to both parties and best for their child’s well-being.
Litigation involves going before a judge and allowing them to decide the child support arrangement for the parents. In those cases, judges rarely deviate from the standard guidelines, though they will hear arguments from both parties and consider all the relevant information when making their decision.
Navigating the family court system can be overwhelming, especially when you’re going through a divorce or legal separation. Even if both parents are on the same page about doing what’s best for their child, it’s best to have an experienced family law attorney on your side.
Bruce A. Mandel has served California families for decades and knows how to help you prepare for mediation or litigation. Or, if you need assistance with modifying or enforcing a child support order, he is here to guide you through every step of the process.
Give him a call at (424) 250-9130 to discuss your case, or check out his Facebook page for more information and advice.