California Child Support Laws

Under California law, a parent's first and most important obligation is to support his or her children. This becomes especially significant if you're going through a divorce, separation, or paternity suit because in these situations, a court will decide who gets custody of your children, who pays child support, how much they have to pay, and other important issues. If you're facing any of these serious life events, you'll want to know how the child support laws work in California.

What California Law Says About Who Pays Child Support

Typically, the noncustodial parent is the one who makes regular payments of child support to the custodial parent (Sec. 3002, et seq). The custodial parent is the one who will be with ("in custody of") the child the majority of the time, paying for many of the expenses of raising a child: food, housing, education, health care, etc. (Sec 3004, et seq., Sec. 4053). If the parents are unable to reach a custody agreement themselves, the court will determine who the custodial parent will be. Both parents must support their unmarried children until they are 18 years old, or longer for children who are full-time high school students or disabled adults incapable of supporting themselves) (Sec. 3022, 3580, 3900, et seq.).

What California Law Says About Calculating Child Support

A court usually determines child support payments based on income. For the purposes of determining child support, "income" includes not only salary or hourly wages, but other types of funds as well. Sources of income may include:

  • Salary
  • Any commissions earned
  • Hourly wages
  • Bonuses
  • Property
  • Dividends
  • Spousal support payments
  • Lottery winnings

After your total income is determined, the court uses a statewide uniform guideline formula to see how much you owe or should be paid (Sec. 4055). This formula takes into account a number of factors, including (Sec. 4055):

  • Parents' incomes
  • Number of children who need support
  • Percentage of time each spouse will spend with the children
  • Amount of money each parent spends on costs like health care and daycare
  • Each parent's tax liabilities

It should be noted that a court may order a higher or lower amount than what the formula suggests, depending on what is in the best interests of the child (Sec. 4056).

Read the full text of the Code of California for more detail.

My Spouse and I Are Separating: What's Next?

The issue of child support can have a huge impact on your financial stability and the wellbeing of your children. There are many details to consider, from who gets custody of the kids to what equals "income." You may even run into trouble establishing paternity or enforcing court-ordered child support. The California Department of Child Support Services provides many online resources for both custodial and noncustodial parents, including:

Not Sure About Child Support After Your Divorce? Get a Free Case Review

Divorce and child support issues can take a huge toll on both the spouses and children involved. And in California, the formula used to calculate child support payments can be especially confusing. An experienced divorce lawyer can guide you through the ordeal and protect your interests. Receive a free legal evaluation from a local attorney familiar with California's child support laws.

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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