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How much will I owe? Determining child support in California

Going through a divorce is an understandably difficult time for families. It can be particularly stressful when determining issues such as child custody and support. In California, Family Code Section 4050 controls how child support obligations are calculated. The couple must provide certain information to the court, which is entered into a complex formula to calculate the amount of support each parent will owe.

Calculating child support, what information is relevant?

Child support guidelines are intended to enforce both parents obligation to financially support their child and to have a payment structure that is in the child's best interests. To do this, the court must consider both parents' gross income, ability to pay and the time each parent spends with his or her child. The court will consider other factors as well, including:

  • The number of children
  • Income tax deductions (for example, mortgage interest)
  • Medical and dental insurance costs
  • Pension or union dues
  • Child care costs

The court also presumes that the child's primary caretaker is already contributing a significant amount to cover day-to-day expenses that come with raising a child. All relevant information is submitted to the court and a support payment is generated using the calculation formula.

If any special circumstances exist, the court has the discretion to add additional support as well. Some examples of discretionary add-ons may include additional expenses related to care costs for a special needs child or travel expenses (in some circumstances).

Parents are obligated to pay child support until their child turns 18, unless the child is still a high school student, or upon high school graduation. Support payments would also end if the child becomes emancipated, joins the military, marries or is deceased. Parents can continue to pay child support after any of the above situations occurs upon agreement.

Can support payments change?

After the child support order has been made, parents can change the support obligations upon mutual agreement and submit a stipulation to the court for a new order. Child support can also be changed if the original order was below the guideline amount.

In other situations, support can be modified if there is a "substantial change in circumstances." Some examples of a substantial change may include, significant changes in parenting time, an increase or decrease in education, health care or childcare costs, an increase or decrease in one or both parents income or one or both parents having an additional child or children. Any modification to support payments must be approved by the court for a new order.

If you need assistance with your child support determination or a modification to an existing order, contact an attorney at the Law Office of Cecil & Cianci, PC. We will answer your questions, discuss your options and help you through the process.

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