How Does California Calculate Child Support?
To ensure uniformity in child support calculations and a minimum level of child support, California courts must adhere to the Statewide Uniform Guidelines for child support (see California Family Code §§ 4050 to 4076). If parents cannot agree on child support, child support awards are calculated by the court using a complex formula that accounts for each parent’s income, the time-sharing plan, tax deductions, and more (which we will discuss in further detail later).
When applying the guideline rules, the courts are expected to adhere to the principles outlined in California Family Code § 4053, which are:
- Both parents are jointly responsible for supporting their child(ren).
- Each parent’s primary obligation is to support their child(ren) with regard to the parent’s circumstances and station in life.
- Each parent’s income and level of responsibility for the child(ren) will be considered.
- Each parent should pay child support according to their ability.
- The best interest of the child is the first priority.
- Child support orders may improve the standard of living of the custodial household to improve the child’s life and ensure the child shares in the standard of living of both parents.
- Child support orders should reflect the increased costs associated with raising a child in two homes and decrease disparities between the standard of living in both homes (if both parents have a high percentage of responsibility for the child(ren)).
- The child’s financial needs should be met using private financial resources as much as possible.
- The guideline aims to minimize the need for litigation and encourage fair, efficient settlements.
- The guideline is believed to be correct in all cases, and support orders can only fall below the amount mandated by the formula in special circumstances.
- Child support orders should ensure that children receive sufficient and timely support that accounts for the state’s standard of living and the costs of raising children.
The Child Support Formula
According to California Family Code § 4055, the formula for calculating child support is CS = K[HN – (H%)(TN)]. The formula components are as follows:
- CS, the child support amount
- K, the combined amount of both parents’ income allocated for child support
- HN, the higher earner’s net monthly disposable income
- H%, an approximate percentage of the time that the high earner has or will have primary physical responsibility for the children as compared to the other parent
- TN, the total net monthly disposable income of both parents
Applying the Guideline Formula
Whether you are seeking to obtain child support orders in a divorce, legal separation, paternity, or domestic partnership case, you (and the other parent) will be expected to complete an Income and Expense Declaration form. You must honestly disclose your financial information as it will be to input amounts into the support formula. Because the formula is so complex, most courts use a computer and/or calculator.
Even though there are online calculators you can use, you should consult with our legal team. We understand the guidelines and the legalities as well as experience with calculating child support awards, and every case is different as you may have multiple children who need support, a child with special educational needs, or
Calculating Parental Income in Child Support Cases
To determine each parent’s annual disposable income (and thus TN), you subtract the amounts attributable to items, such as tax deductions, healthcare premiums, retirement contributions, etc., from their annual gross income. Under California Family Code § 4059, annual gross income includes income from sources, excluding income received from child support payments or public assistance programs.
In determining your annual gross income, the court will examine any streams of income you received via:
- Tips or bonuses
- Commissions or royalties
- Overtime payments
- Trust income
- Rental property income
- Employment wages
- Self-employment earnings or benefits
- Unemployment benefits
- Workers’ compensation and disability benefits
- Social security and pension benefits
- Investment income or earned interests
- Lottery or prize winnings
Child Support Additions
A parent may be required to pay for additional, specified expenses for their child’s benefit. Under California Family Code § 4062, there are two types of child support “add-ons:”
- Discretionary additions, which can order a parent to contribute to costs concerning visitation travel expenses and the child’s educational or special needs.
- Mandatory additions, which order a parent to contribute to costs concerning reasonable healthcare costs for the child and childcare costs related to needed education, training, or employment.
Deviating from the Guideline Amount
The state legislature understands that there may be circumstances when the formula calculations were unfair or unreasonable. California Family Code § 4057(b) lists the circumstances in which a judge can justifiably award child support lower or higher than the formula-generated amount. These circumstances include but are not limited to:
- The parents have agreed upon a child support amount that is approved by the court.
- The support payee is being ordered to pay an amount that would exceed the needs of the child.
- The child(ren) has special medical needs that require a greater amount than the formula generated.
- A parent is not contributing financially to the child’s needs at a level that matches their custodial time.
When Do Child Support Payments End in California?
Court-ordered child support payments can be terminated when the child:
- turns 18 years old if they graduate high school, or
- turns 19 years old or graduates high school (whichever occurs first).
Child support can also end when the child:
- Gets married or registers a domestic partnership
- Is emancipated
- Joins the military
It is important to note that child support orders can be continued (by the court) in instances where an adult child is disabled and unable to support themselves. Sometimes, parents may also agree to extend child support payments to help with a child’s post-high school education, living expenses, etc.
Get Legal Help from Our Firm Today
At The Neshanian Law Firm, our clients are our priority, which is why we offer individualized, attentive legal counsel. With over 45 years of combined experience with family law cases, our legal team is equipped to help clients file to obtain child support orders and calculate child support award they may be owed or pay. We can also handle other child support matters, including:
- Settlement negotiations
- Modifications (based on a change in circumstances)
- Defenses against enforcement
Understanding California child support guidelines and calculating child support orders is extremely challenging, which is why you should retain our Certified Family Law Specialist, Attorney Amy Neshanian. For help with your child support case, schedule a case consultation today online or at (949) 577-7935.