How Is Child Support Calculated in California and Who May Be Required To Pay?

Hossein Berenji, Nov 09, 2023

California uses statewide uniform child support guidelines for calculating the child support obligation a parent must pay. California Child Support Services provides an online child support calculator. The child support calculator uses a mandatory formula to calculate the child support obligation of each parent.

Generally, the guidelines consider several factors including, but not limited to:

  • The number of children to be supported
  • A parent’s tax filing status
  • Health insurance premiums paid by each parent
  • The percentage of time each parent spends with the children
  • The gross income of each parent
  • Allowable expenses and deductions from gross income

However, child support is not as simple as plugging information into the child support estimator. It is called an estimator because the calculator is a starting point. Other factors may impact the amount of child support payments.

Other Factors That Courts Consider When Calculating Child Support in California 

The judge may deviate from the child support guidelines in some cases. Generally, a judge orders the parents to pay for mandatory add-ons such as health care, child care, a child’s special needs, uninsured health care costs, and education costs. Judges may order one parent to pay these costs or divide the costs between them.

Other factors a judge might consider to calculate child support include, but are not limited to:

Parents can also agree to an amount for child support, provided the amount covers the basic child support obligation. High-earning parents who have established a certain standard of living often agree to pay higher amounts of child support so their children can maintain the standard of living they enjoyed when their parents were married. Parents may also agree to include other expenses in support payments, such as college tuition or car payments. 

If the child support agreed upon is below the child support guidelines, the court must find that the agreement is in the child’s best interest. The court must also find there is no coercion or duress, both parents are aware of their rights to guideline child support, neither parent is receiving or has applied for public assistance, and the parents agree the child’s needs will be met.

Which Parent Pays Child Support in California?

Generally, child support payments are paid to the custodial parent by the non-custodial parent. The children live primarily with the custodial parent. Therefore, the custodial parent pays for most of the child’s day-to-day expenses.

However, if the custodial parent earns substantially more than the non-custodial parent, it impacts the amount of child support payments. The custodial parent could be responsible for a higher amount of the total child support obligation, which would lower the amount paid by the non-custodial parent.

Additionally, parents who share 50-50 custody may be ordered to pay child support. Even with joint custody, a child may live with one parent. As such, the parent the child lives with has the child more of the time and would receive the child support payments. 

Can I Modify Child Support Payments in California?

The initial calculation of child support can be modified if a change in circumstances arises. The change in circumstances is something that happens that neither parent could reasonably foresee. Additionally, the change must be substantial.

Examples of a substantial change in circumstances include, but are not limited to:

  • A parent involuntarily loses their job or has a decrease in income
  • A change in visitation or custody changes the time-sharing schedule 
  • A parent’s income substantially increases
  • The child has special needs that were not known at the time the court issued the current child support order 
  • A parent applies for or stops receiving government assistance or aid
  • A parent’s illness or disability prevents them from earning the same level of income they did when the court granted the original order
  • A parent is incarcerated or admitted to a mental health facility
  • Changes in the availability or coverage for health insurance

A parent must petition the court to modify child support. The parent seeking the judgment modification must demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances that justifies modifying child support payments. 

When Does Child Support Stop in California?

Generally, child support payments continue until the court orders the parent to stop making the payments. However, child support legally ends when:

  • The child turns 18 years old or graduates from high school, whichever is later
  • The child turns 19 years old and is still a full-time high school student
  • The child marries, joins the military, or is legally emancipated
  • Either parent or the child dies

If you have questions about child support payments in California, you can talk with a Beverly Hills child support attorney.

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