Child Support Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s face it. California’s child support laws are not intuitive. I find that much of Family Law is just about having good common sense – except for child support, that is. I mean, I get the most perplexed looks from clients who ask me why the child support the receive went down even after their ex spouse remarried a wealthy new spouse or why they have to pay more child support even though their net disposable income has gone down (after making a retirement contribution). Quite possibly the hardest principle for me to explain is when a client has their children 55% – 85% of the time – but still has to pay the other parent child support. Not one of my favorite moments. To help take the mystery out of child support, I’ve identified some of the most frequently asked questions and well, answered them below.

1. Does the parent receiving child support have to pay for all of our child’s expenses?
No. Child support is to help level the playing field in the different households. It’s for basic living expenses. Stuff like school uniforms, tutoring, uninsured/ uncovered medical expenses and extra curricular activities are not covered in basic child support. Usually the parties come to an agreement or the court orders that these expenses are shared. Usually equally – but not always. If one parent is paying all of the child(ren)’s childcare expenses, the child support calculation can be adjusted to take into account that expense and offset it from the basic child support amount.

2. We’ve got three kids. Is the amount of support the same for each of them?
No. The formula used to calculate support apportions the total child support amount among your children with the highest amount of support to the youngest child. Why? I have no idea.

3. Where can I go to get an estimate of what I might owe or receive in child support?
You can find a link to California’s child support calculator here. California’s Department of Child Support Services also offers a child support calculator ‘user guide’ that you can download.

4. How is child support determined?
California child support is based on a statewide guideline formula. There are a few different legal software’s the attorney’s usually use to calculate it (since it’s not an easy formula). One such calculator is above. Most of us in Alameda County use a program called “Dissomaster.” To determine child support, we look at several factors including but not limited to: timeshare that each parent has custody of their child(ren); tax filing status; some tax deductible expenses; income of each of the parents; contributions to retirement account(s); and health insurance premiums.

5. Is there a dollar limit on the amount of child support I will be ordered to pay?
Short answer, no. There is no cap on the amount of support that can be ordered. Almost always the Court will order the guideline formula be used. In very limited circumstances there are arguments that can be made (and sometimes accepted by the court) to lower the child support amount. However, if the amount you are paying in child support raises the lifestyle of the other parent – that in it of it self won’t justify a lower child support amount. California believes a child should be raised in a lifestyle consistent with that which the higher earning parent can provide.

6. I have a ‘regular’ wage earning job and I have some investments on the side. What will the court include as my ‘income’ for purposes of the child support calculation?
The Family Code provides that income from all sources is to be considered. So, for example, if you are employed as a teacher but have a couple income producing rental homes, your W2 wages will be included in the calculation along with your income from the rental properties. Things can get tricky when determining your ‘net income’ from the properties. Sometimes income deductions that you are lawfully able to claim on your tax returns, are not proper deductions to your income for purposes of child support.

7. I am certain that my ex is using the child support I pay to finance her shopping addiction and annual vacations. Is there a way to track whether or not my ex is actually using the support for our child(ren)?
Unfortunately, the court does not require that support be used for any specific purpose. Unless you and your ex agree that support will be used a certain way, the law presumes the receiving parent is using the support for their very ‘general’ living expenses — which clearly benefits your child as well.

Whether you are just trying to understand what a ‘fair’ amount of child support would be, seeking to maximize the child support you receive, or making efforts to limit your financial exposure — this article is a good place for you to start. Next stop, sound legal advice specific to the facts of your case.

Please note that this blog is meant for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Reading this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship with Levine Family Law Group. This blog is written from the perspective of existing California law and all attempts are made to be accurate and current on all legal developments. However, please do not make decisions that will affect your future based on things you’ve read on our website. Instead, consult with a Certified Family Law Specialist – It doesn’t have to be us, but be sure to seek out sound legal advice that pertains specifically to the facts of your case.


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