Do I Have to Pay Child Support If I Share Custody 50/50?

Hossein Berenji, Oct 17, 2019

Child custody and support issues in California’s Family Courts must always be made with the best interests of the child in mind. After a divorce, a child will live with a parent who has sole physical custody. In legalese, this dad or mom is called the “custodial” parent. Unless the other parent has a history of abuse or neglect or otherwise poses a danger to the child, he or she will be allowed some visitation privileges.

When a custodial parent also has legal custody, it’s hoped that the child’s parents will make decisions together concerning the child’s education, medical care, and other things. However, this isn’t required. In addition to providing a home for his or her child, a custodial mom or dad who also has sole legal custody will be able to make all child-raising decisions without the other’s say so.

If you have joint custody, you share with your child’s other parent 50/50 in both physical and legal custody. You are both custodial parents. Although the California Family Code defines joint custody, it doesn’t require it to be ordered. Family Court judges, however, believe that joint custody is almost always best for a child.

A court may order parents to share joint custody, but would prefer that the parents also agree. The reason is that an agreement shows that the parents have the child’s best interests at heart. At the same time, this usually improves the chances that the parents will cooperate and not fight when it comes to making decisions about raising the child.

Child Support in California

Like parents everywhere, those in California know that raising a child is expensive. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the national average cost of raising a child up to age 18 is between $250,000 and $375,000. This isn’t optional; regardless of income, a parent must spend what’s needed to raise his or her child. When parents are still together there is no reason to worry about financial decisions – the parents make those as they see fit. Support only becomes an issue after parents split up.

California courts have adopted support guidelines. These are used by judges to figure out the right amount of support payments. The guidelines consider a number of things, including:

  • The total number of each parent’s children from the marriage or other relationship
  • Each parent’s present and likely future income
  • Debts, including responsibility to pay support to the mom or dad in and prior relationship
  • Medical insurance costs
  • Shared expenses

A non-custodial parent is most often the only one who has a court-ordered support obligation. So, do you have to pay child support if you have joint custody of your child? As with so many questions, the answer is “it all depends.”

Child Support in Joint Custody Cases

Since, in theory at least, parents with joint custody share equally in physical custody, this is less important when deciding who should pay child support. Financial responsibility is different. If one parent makes much more money or has fewer debts, he or she may be ordered to pay the other support, even if they share 50/50 custody. The decision will always be based on the best interests of the child.

The child’s expenses will be considered. A mom or dad who is a star pro athlete (think NFL quarterback), a wealthy entertainer or a highly paid corporate executive or who otherwise makes much more than the other parent may be ordered to pay child support. As with custody, the court will always think about the best interests of the child. The judge will almost always okay agreements between the parents but can issue a court order setting payments on his or her own if the mother and father aren’t able to reach an agreement.

Remember – Child Support Is For the Child, Not the Parents

We have represented many moms and dads like you who have joint custody. We can tell you what a judge in our area is likely to do regarding support. However, the state court support guidelines are just that – guidelines for judges to follow. They’re not hard and fast rules. Decisions are made on a case by case basis. So while it’s never a sure thing, yes, if you’re a parent with joint custody you can be ordered to pay child support. It can sometimes be hard for parents to remember that child support payments are made for the child’s benefit, not for the good or convenience of the parents. That’s true whether you are talking about joint or sole custody.