What is the Duty for Paying California Child Support?
In California, both parents have an equal duty to support their kids.
(California Family Code section 3900.) The duty to support a child ends when the child reaches the age of 18 and is no longer a high school student, becomes self-supporting or reaches the age of 19 – whichever occurs first. (California Family Code section 3901.) When the parents are separated or not married, support can become an issue.
How Much Is Child Support?
A lot of times, parents can just agree on an amount. But when a party won’t pay or the parents can’t agree on how much, a court can step in and make an order. Courts calculate support using a formula known as the Statewide Uniform Guideline. (See California Family Code sections 4050 et seq.) The formula is fairly complex. (If you really want to review the formula, it can be found at California Family Code section 4055 here.)
Basically, the guideline considers the income of each party, the amount of time each parent spends caring for the child and certain deductions such as health insurance premiums, mandatory retirement payments or job expenses. The formula also considers the taxes each party pays.
Most lawyers and judges use special software to calculate the amount of California child support. If the Court decides the amount of child support, the judge has to follow the guideline to the penny – unless she can show a really good reason to choose a different number. People can agree to a non-guideline order if they wish, but they have to let the court know in their agreement that they know the guideline and are choosing a non-guideline order anyway.
The California Department of Child Support Services has an online application for calculating the amount of guideline child support. However, our experience is that the number is often inaccurate. It’s always smart to see an attorney to really know what the amount should be. But the link to the online calculator is here if you are curious.
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When Are California Child Support Payments Due?
Typically, courts order support in a monthly amount payable on the first of every month. To help collect, the State of California has a system for wage garnishment where an employer can deduct the child support payments directly from the paycheck like taxes. The employer sends the money to a special agency, which, in turn, sends the funds to the payee. If the parties agree, they can choose to stay wage assignment orders to allow for a party to pay directly.
What Happens If a California Child Support Payment Is Missed?
The California family courts take child support orders as serious as a heart attack. You must pay your child support no matter what. The payments are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. You have to pay your child support before you pay your own bills. The legal rate of interest (10%) can accrue if you are late. The California Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) can do very mean things to people who don’t pay their obligations. For example, they can intercept tax refunds, garnish bank accounts and even suspend your driver’s license.
How Can I Change My Child Support?
Parties can modify the amount of support either by stipulation or court order. A stipulation is an agreement signed by both parties that the court adopts as its own order. If the parties don’t agree to a change, a California child support order can only be changed by way of a noticed motion to modify and an order of the court. The court can change child support if there is a change of circumstances. (I.e., someone gets a pay raise or someone loses a job.)
Very importantly, if the parties agree to modify or stop the child support payments, they must get a court order either by stipulation or by noticed hearing to modify or terminate the support payments. Otherwise, the child support obligation will continue even if the parties agree to suspend payments. We’ve seen lots of folks think that they ended their support obligation by mutual agreement only to find that they had accrued a massive support arrearage with penalties and interest. The moral to the story? Get a court order.
What Does Guideline Child Support Cover?
Guideline child support covers room and board- the living expenses for a child incurred by the parent caring for the child. Built into the formula is the idea that the child should have a similar living experience at both parents’ houses. It is not considered ok for one parent to live in a posh lifestyle while the other parent lives in squalor. Additionally, the paying parent does not get to second guess how the payee spends the money.
Beyond room and board, the court will also typically order “mandatory add-ons.” For instance, parents equally split the costs of unreimbursed medical, counseling, therapy and orthodontia costs. Parties also split child care costs related to employment or to education reasonably calculated to lead to further employment.
There are also “discretionary add-ons,” which cover stuff like extracurricular activities, sports, camp or private school tuition that guideline child support doesn’t cover. They are discretionary because the judge has the discretion to order these costs split or not. Most of the time, parties can agree on the discretionary add-ons.
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