Calculating Child Support in California
In California, both parents of minor children have equal responsibility to support their children in a manner that is suitable to the children’s circumstances under Family Code § 3900. In a proceeding to order child support, the court follows a guideline to determine the amount of support to be paid for the children.
Guideline Child Support
The purpose of the guideline support amount is to encourage a fair determination of child support as well as to reduce conflicts between the parties on the issue of child support. Pursuant to Family Code § 4053, the guideline amount takes into account each parents income as well as each parents level of responsibility for the children. As a start, it is presumed that the parent that has primary physical custody of the children is the parent that contributes a significant portion of their available resources to support the children.
How is The Guideline Child Support Amount Calculated?
The formula for calculating the guideline amount in Family Code § 4055(a) looks very complex on its face, but computer programs make the amount easy to calculate. Some factors that are taken into consideration are:
Number of children;
Percentage of parenting time for each parent (the percentage of time that each parent spends with the children);
Deductions for things such as health insurance, property tax, mortgage interest, retirement, hardship, and relevant dues;
Gross income for each parent; and
Tax returns are generally a reliable source for determining the income of each parent, however issues such as underreporting income may reduce the credibility of tax returns.
Underreporting income means not accurately reporting the full amount of income earned on tax returns, financial statements, or other official documents. This can include failing to report income from tips, side jobs, or freelance work, or intentionally hiding income to avoid paying taxes or other obligations.
Underreporting income becomes less of an issue when a parent is an employee that receives a W2. Self-employed persons and cash businesses bring up issues of actual income earned and in these instances, the court may rely on profit and loss statements of the business, ledgers, bank and credit card statements, loan applications, or the amount of monthly expenses.
If a Parent is Underemployed or Refusing to Work
In some instances, a parent may intentionally reduce their work schedule or be underemployed for the purpose of minimizing their income. Under Family Code § 4058(b) the court may consider the earning capacity of that parent instead of their income.
Being underemployed means that a person is employed in a job that does not fully utilize their skills, education, or experience. This can include working in a job that requires a lower level of skill or education than the person has, working part-time instead of full-time, or working in a job that pays significantly less than the person's previous job or the average wage for their profession.
Earning capacity refers to a persons ability to earn income and the opportunity to do so. When considering a parents earning capacity, the court also considers the best interest of the child. For example, if a parent has the ability to work beyond what they are doing now, they might not be doing so due to situations such as caring for an infant or caring for a child with special medical needs that makes it difficult for a parent to work to their full capacity.
Deviating From The Guideline Formula
The guideline amount does not always have to be followed, but there has to be an appropriate legal reason for straying from the guideline amount. Situations where the court may deviate from the guideline amount are delineated in Family Code § 4057(a):
If the parties agree to a different amount;
If the sale of the family home is postponed and the rental value of the family home where the children reside is more than the payments on the mortgage, homeowners insurance, and property taxes;
If the parent being ordered to pay child support has a very high income and the amount determined under the guideline formula would exceed the needs of the children;
If the custodial parent or the parent who has primary physical custody of the children is not contributing the majority of their resources to the children; or
Where using the formula would be unjust or inappropriate due to special circumstances in the particular case. This section includes circumstances such as children with special or medical needs. This section also allows the court to have the most discretion to deviate from the guideline amount.
Support for Your Children
It is important to every parent to have the ability to support their children in a manner that is suitable to their children’s needs. Because both parents have equal responsibility to support their children, California family law courts use guideline support amounts to determine the level of support required from each parent based on their specific circumstances and income. The attorneys at Harris & McKeown Law Firm have been assisting clients with their child support matters for over 10 years and we understand the importance of ensuring your children are properly supported.
If you are located in Orange County or its surrounding areas and you need advice regarding child support, schedule a consultation appointment online or by calling (949) 297-6529.
THIS INFORMATION IS PROVIDED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. EVERY CASE IS DIFFERENT AND THIS GUIDE SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE. THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT CREATE AN ATTORNEY CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE READER AND ITS AUTHOR. IF YOU HAVE LEGAL QUESTIONS, CONSULT WITH A FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY.