How is Child Support Calculated in California?

Child support refers to the obligation of parents to provide financial support to their children. This type of support is most commonly ordered by the court following a divorce, separation, or proof of paternity. Typically, the noncustodial parent will make regular payments to the custodial parent.

The Duration of Child Support in California

Generally, child support payments continue until the child reaches the age of 18. However, children who are enrolled full-time in school, are living with a parent and are not emancipated may have the right to continue receiving financial support from the noncustodial parent until they complete high school or turn 19. When a child has a mental or physical disability that prevents gainful employment, a court may order the noncustodial parent to provide support to the child well after he or she turns 18. On the other hand, child support payments may stop early if the child becomes self-supporting, which might involve getting married or joining the military.

Determining the Value of Child Support in California

The federal guidelines for calculating child support serve as the basis for the California calculation. The amount of child support is calculated based on several factors, including:

  • The number of children requiring support
  • The income of both parents
  • The amount of time each parent is responsible for the child
  • The amount of money that each parent spends on costs like health care and daycare
  • Each parent's tax liabilities

Baseline child support payments are calculated using each parent's net disposable income. This is the parent's gross annual income minus deductions for child support purposes and divided by 12. Gross income includes not only the parent's wages from work but also income from spousal support payments, lottery winnings, tips and rent paid on properties they own.

California Child Support Calculations

The percentage of time that the higher-earning parent is responsible for the child is multiplied by both parents' total net monthly disposable incomes. This amount is then subtracted from the higher-earning parent's net monthly disposable income. That amount is multiplied by the portion of both parents' incomes that are allocated for child support. This amount is the baseline child support payment amount.

If there are multiple children who require support, the baseline child support amount is multiplied by a number corresponding to the number of children. For example, if two children require child support, the baseline child support payment should be multiplied by 1.6. For three children, the baseline child support payment should be multiplied by 2.

The table below is a general guideline for determining the percentage of net income which will be allocated to child support. However, the child support award will be reduced to reflect the amount of time each parent spends with the child(ren). The FSD or local child support agency will calculate the amount of child support in your case, although the court will determine the final amount.

One child 25%
Two children 40%
Three children 50%

It should be noted that this may not be the exact amount the noncustodial parent has to pay. In some cases, the court may order a higher or lower amount, depending on what is in the best interest of the child. In some cases, parents may also agree to a higher or lower amount.

They will, however, need to show that the amount is in the child's best interest and adequate for the child's care. The amount will need to be approved by the court. In addition, courts may choose to impute income on a parent who is willfully unemployed or underemployed. Under these circumstances, the court can calculate the child support based on previous income.

California Child Support Hypothetical

A custodial parent (in this case the mother) and non­custodial parent (the father) have one child. If the father`s net disposable income is $2,000 per month his share of child support would be $500 a month (25% of 2,000). If the mother`s net disposable income is $1,500 per month, her share of child support would be $375 a month (25% of 1,500). These percentages are then adjusted according to the amount of time each parent spends with the child.

The law requires the court to order one or both parents to provide health insurance coverage for their child(ren), including vision and dental care coverage, if it is available through a job or group insurance plan at no or reasonable cost to the parent.

Other Common Child Care Expenses

Other child care expenses that a court may order the noncustodial parent to pay include a variety of costs, such as those for day care and extracurricular sports. In situations where only one parent has health insurance for the child, the parents may be required to split health care costs. Travel expenses are also common when the custodial and noncustodial parent live far away from each other. Courts can require one or both parents to cover these travel expenses.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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