Here is an overview of the default child support laws in the State of California. Every state has different support laws, and the following overview is specific to the laws of California. Parties can agree to whatever child support amount and calculation they would like – but in the event parties cannot agree otherwise, below is the default child support law.
The public policy behind child support is that parents should share income in such a way that the children do not experience a dramatically different standard of living between one household and the other. Child support does not begin until there has been an agreement or one of the parties has filed a request for child support with the Court. In California, there is a “guideline” formula that is used to calculate child support, both pre- and post- divorce Judgment, according to a legislatively prescribed mathematical formula. One of the most common programs that is used to calculate child support is called the DissoMaster. Generally speaking, the program calculates child support by combining parties’ earnings, taking out money for taxes, adding back money for deductions (and some other adjustments), and then allocating what remains between the parties based on how much time each spends with the children.
Sometimes there is an issue when someone is unemployed or underemployed and parties want to look at a person’s earning potential. In some cases, one would look at hypothetical earning potential (also known as earning capacity) rather than actual income in determining support.
When one or both parties’ income is variable, as with a self-employed spouse or an employee who receives equity compensation, one approach is to fix monthly child support based upon base salary alone. When additional income is earned, a party pays a percentage of that gross income as additional support. The DissoMaster generates a table that specifies the percentage that is applied to the additional income. The additional child support can be paid when the additional income is received or in some periodic way, such as quarterly or monthly. If the person getting child support also receives periodic or variable income, there can be a “true up” of both parties’ additional incomes.
In addition to monthly child support, parents share certain direct expenses of the children, such as out-of-pocket medical expenses, childcare so that a parent can work, extra-curricular expenses, camps, private school tuition and the like. Most commonly these expenses are shared 50/50 although it does depend on the circumstances.
Child support is tax free and is paid until the youngest child turns 18 or graduates from high school if he or she is 19 when they graduate.
This overview is not intended to be a substitute for individual legal advice. Be sure to discuss how California law impacts your individual rights with a qualified individual family law attorney.