Answers To Common Child Support Questions
Child support requests can ignite a number of emotional and financial issues for divorcing couples. It is important to understand how the state of California calculates child support, as well as what your options are if you have unique circumstances or concerns about how the request fits in with your entire divorce agreement.
The lead attorney for the Family Law Offices of Glen L. Rabenn has 40 years of experience in family law. He is certified by The State Bar of California in family law and has worked with families of all types to resolve child support questions. Mr. Rabenn drafted answers to some of the common child support questions heard in our law office.
Child Support FAQ
How is child support calculated?
In California, child support is calculated using the Statewide Uniform Guideline for Child Support, which is found in Family Code, beginning at Section 4050. A detailed discussion can be found in the article “Calculating Child Support.” This applies in all cases where there is a minor child, including dissolutions of marriage and paternity cases.
Does the amount of time I have with our children affect how much child support I am supposed to pay?
The Statewide Uniform Guideline for Child Support provides that one of the factors that is to be considered is the “… approximate percentage of time that the high earner has or will have primary physical responsibility for the children compared to the other parent.”
The legislature’s use of the terms “approximate percentage” and “primary physical responsibility” allows courts to be flexible in how the time-share component of the formula is to be applied. Some judges look at the overall parenting plan and arrive upon an estimated percentage. Other judges will make precise calculations, adding up the hours that the children are with each parent.
Computer programs, such as the DissoMaster© program allows the user to insert a specific percentage for each parent. The DissoMaster© also has a drop-down menu entitled “Santa Clara Timeshare Options.” This is a collection of time modules that was originally developed by the Santa Clara County Superior Court. For example, if the noncustodial parent has the children every other weekend plus two weeks in the summer, that parent’s time share is indicated as 18.9%.
The bottom line is that the more time the noncustodial parent has the children, the lower that parents’ child support will be.
Can the noncustodial parent be ordered to pay for expenses associated with our children in addition to the guideline child support amount?
In addition to the guideline child support, the Family Code provides that a noncustodial parent can be ordered to contribute to “add-ons.” These include the following:
- Certain child care costs.
- Uninsured medical expenses for the children.
- Educational or other special needs expenses.
- Private school tuition.
- Extracurricular activities.
Does my former spouse have to maintain our children under her medical insurance plan at work?
Yes. In fact, the Family Code requires that both parents are to maintain group medical insurance for the children, if it is available at “no cost” or at a “reasonable cost.” This includes vision and dental coverages, if they are available.
How is child support paid?
In general, child support is paid by way of an “earnings assignment order,” which is signed by the judge and served on the support payer’s employer. The employer then deducts the child support payments from the employee’s paycheck.
What happens if I am unable to pay the court-ordered child support?
A child support order remains in effect until it naturally expires or there is a formal order that modifies the original child support order. If circumstances arise that prevent you from complying with the child support order, you should immediately file for a modification with your local Superior Court.
If you simply stop paying or pay a reduced amount, you will build up a child support arrearage, which you will eventually have to pay. In addition to the back child support, you will also have to pay “legal interest” at 10% per year. For example, if you incur a child support arrearage of $5,000, it will earn interest of $500 each year it remains unpaid. If the child support remains unpaid for 10 years, you will owe the principal amount of $5,000 plus accrued interest of $5,000, for a total of $10,000.
Can my spouse and I agree that I will never be required to pay child support?
Such an agreement is not permitted. The law imposes the duty to support a child on both parents. This duty cannot be terminated or limited by an agreement between the child’s parents. You and your spouse can agree as to which of you will be primarily responsible for the support of your child. However, any agreement that absolves a parent from the duty to support his/her child is void because it violates public policy.
Can I agree to accept less than the amount of child support that is indicated by the Statewide Uniform Guideline for Child Support?
You and the other parent can agree to an amount of child support that is less than what would be ordered under a strict application of the child support guideline. However, at any time you have the absolute right to go back to court to request that the child support be increased to the guideline level.
When does child support end?
A parent’s obligation to pay child support continues until that child attains the age of 18 years. However, if the child is still in high school on his/her 18th birthday, and is attending school on a full-time basis, the child support obligation continues until the child graduates high school or attains the age of 19 years, whichever occurs first.
The Family Code provides that the parents of an adult disabled child can be ordered to pay child support for that child. But this can be done only if the judge concludes that the adult child is both incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means. The Statewide Guideline for Child Support is generally applied in those circumstances.
Can a parent be ordered to support a child who is in college?
Unless the child is disabled, the law does not impose on a parent the duty to support an adult child who is attending college. However, if the parents enter into a formal stipulated court order that provides for such support, it will be enforced by the court just as any other child support order.
My husband and I separated a year ago, but we have not filed for a divorce. He has not been giving me any child support. If I go to court can I get retroactive child support?
A child support order can be retroactive only to the date when the first court document requesting child support is filed. In a dissolution of marriage case, this means that the judge can order child support retroactive only when the petition or response was filed by the parent who is requesting child support. For this reason, it is important that a formal request for child support be made with the court as soon as the parents separate.
Unfortunately, because you have not filed for a dissolution of marriage, you will not be able to get the child support ordered retroactively back to when you and your husband separate.
My wife and I separated over a year ago and she has been receiving public assistance. The county is now asking me to pay child support retroactive to when my wife started receiving assistance. Can they do that?
The rule against retroactive child support orders, which is discussed in the prior question, does not apply to cases where the custodial parent has been receiving public assistance. In those cases, the county can obtain a court order requiring the noncustodial parent to reimburse the county for the amount of assistance that has been provided.
If my ex-wife just married a wealthy man, can I get my child support lowered? If she quits her job because she does not have to work, can she get the child support increased?
The fact that the custodial parent’s new spouse is wealthy does not usually justify a decrease of the child support by the other parent. However, the Family Code permits the new affluent spouse’s income to be considered only if the child will suffer extreme and severe hardship if it is not considered. If the mother quits her job, the judge can still base the child support on the income that the mother would have been earning if she had not quit her job. This is called “imputation of income.”
I suspect that my ex-husband is hiding his income to keep his child support obligation low. What can I do about that?
As referenced above, the law gives the judge the power to impute income to either or both parents. This means that the judge will base the child support on the income that he/she believes the parent should be earning, based on the evidence. This will happen if the judge believes the evidence presented indicates that the parent is making more income than he/she is actually stating in her court forms.
In these cases, it is often necessary for the custodial parent to hire forensic experts. For example, one parent can elect to hire a private investigator to actually track where the other parent is working. Where the other parent operates a business, it might be necessary to retain a certified public accountant to analyze the books and records of the business to determine what the operating parent is actually getting out of the business.