Child support is the legal mechanism by which a court ensures that a child whose parents are divorcing will continue to receive an appropriate level of material support from both parents. Typically, the parent who gets custody of the child(ren) will receive child support payments from the non-custodial parent, but the exact details of what a child support order will look like are very dependent on each parent’s particular financial situation.
California’s child support system is designed to ensure that children of divorce not only have their needs met but continue to enjoy the same standard of living they had before the divorce.
California’s Department of Child Support Services explains it in the following terms: “Child support is determined using guidelines established by California law and is based on many factors, including each parent’s ability to financially provide for the children. In deciding the amount of child support, the court will consider income from all sources… income can be in the form of money, property or services.”
The Formula for Calculating Child Support in California
You don’t need to take notes or grab a calculator as we go through this. You can easily find a child support guideline calculator online to take care of the math for you, giving you an accurate estimate of your child support payment (so long as you feed it the correct numbers).
Although this handy online tool makes it easy to estimate what level of child support will be ordered by the California courts, it’s still a good idea to get an understanding of where that number comes from. Child support is calculated by looking at each parent’s net disposable income and adjusting it based on the percentage of time they have custody of the child(ren) in need of support. This is oversimplified, however. In reality, child support orders in the State of California are a product of several factors:
- Income – and not just the non-custodial parent’s income. Child support in California is more complex than simply taking a percentage of the wealthier parent’s money. The financial situations of both parents are fundamental in determining what the final child support order will look like. Welfare and Social Security are not counted as income for the purposes of calculating child support payments.
- Parenting/visitation time – the amount of time each parent spends with their minor child(ren) is the next most important consideration. The non-custodial parent, in almost every situation, will be paying child support to the parent with majority custody. When parenting time and custody are evenly split, any child support payments would typically go from the wealthier parent to the parent with lesser means.
- Potential tax deductions – especially in cases involving wealthier families, tax deductions can be a significant factor in a parent’s overall financial situation.
- Level of need. The scope of need can affect California child support orders. There are also other uncommon factors that could
Understanding the California Child Support Formula
How do all these factors come together as a dollar amount? In California, there is an actual, publicly available, mathematical formula for a parent’s child support responsibility:
CS = K [HN – (H%) (TN)]
This is the very same calculation running behind the scenes when you click on the State of California’s child support guideline calculator and enter your data there.
Here’s what each variable in our formula stands for:
- CS = child support amount. This is the part of the equation we’re trying to solve.
- K = The sum total of both parents’ income.
- HN = high net, or the total disposable income for the wealthier of the two parents.
- H% = the percentage of the time the wealthier parent spends as the child(ren)’s primary guardian and caregiver. Under a court order for custody to be shared evenly, for example, H% would be 50.
- TN = the sum total of both parents’ monthly disposable income.
It’s a somewhat convoluted formula that would look more at home in source code for a Google algorithm than in a family court, but it’s a very clever formula that is adaptable and can be scaled to remain fair for families in all sorts of different situations.
The way the formula is constructed, the larger the income gap between the two parents, and the more time the less-wealthy parent is the primary caregiver, the higher the wealthier parent’s child support payment will be. In a general sense, the larger the income gap between the two parents and the less time the higher-earning parent is responsible for the kids, the more child support that parent owes.
In addition to the formula being convoluted, it’s also not exact. A judge can adjust the amount of the order as needed if they feel there are other circumstances that need to be considered. These are circumstances such as the tax deductions mentioned in the section above. This also accounts for the fact that “income” is not always an accurate measurement of means for someone who holds a large amount of passive wealth—giving the judge the ability to even out the playing field a little more for divorcing couples with large wealth differences.
Can Child Support Be Recalculated?
If you or your ex-spouse undergo significant financial changes after the divorce, or you believe adjustments to parenting time or visitation schedules need to be made in the best interests of your child(ren), you’ll want to petition the court to reopen your child support case for possible amendment. Child support orders can be recalculated as needed, although reopening and amending a divorce is not always a quick or simple process. A qualified family law attorney can help you through the process.
Child Support Lawyer in Tustin, CA
If you need help with a divorce, custody battle, or child support matter in California, the offices of DeArmey Law are here to help. Matthew DeArmey and his highly qualified, high-powered legal team have over 100 hours of combined experience and are ready to ensure that you, your children, and your assets are protected and treated with dignity.