When parents divorce, the parent who primarily cares for the child will receive payments from the other parent. The law assumes the custodial parent is already spending money directly on the child. Child support payments are paid until the child is 18, but may continue if the child is 19 years old and is still in high school and living with the parent. Child support payment can also be extended if a child is unable to become self supporting due to a disability. Child support can be paid for a shorter amount of time if the child marries, joins the military, or otherwise become self supporting.
According to the federal Child Support Enforcement Act, each state has guidelines that calculate the amount child support to be paid, which vary depending upon several concerns.
In general, factors determining child support include:
- the needs of the child such as health insurance, education, child care, and other special needs
- the income and needs of the custodial parent
- the ability of the paying parent to pay child support
- the child’s standard of living before the divorce or separation
From there, the courts may determine child support depending on factors affecting the child’s best interests, such as:
- the age and sex of the child
- the child’s emotional, social, and educational needs
- the home environments offered by each parent
- the interpersonal relationship between the child and each parent
- the effect on the child of disrupting their regular life routine
- the preference of each child, if the child is of reasonable age and maturity
Child support in California is determined by a mathematical formula which takes the above factors into account. There are also a number of child support calculators available, which can help estimate support amounts.
To use an online child support calculator, you will need to know:
- each parent’s net disposable income
- the number of children who need support
- the custody arrangement
- the parents’ tax liabilities
- whether a parent supports children from another relationship
- the child’s health insurance expenses
- the parents’ mandatory retirement contributions and other job-related expenses
- any other relevant costs.
Though the court often uses the guideline amount to calculate support, the court acknowledges that the amount can sometimes be impractical. For instance, parents might be using a time-sharing system where different children live with each parent for a significant amount of time, and one parents has larger amount of income used for housing. In cases like this or other situations, the court can alter the amount to fit the circumstance.
In limited situations, parents can agree to pay more or less child support. Parents can agree to accept support less than the guideline amount only if they declare that they were fully aware of their child support rights and that they were not coerced into the agreement. Parents must also explain why the lower support amount is in the child’s best interests, and that the child’s needs will still be met. This option is not available for parents who receive public assistance. In any case, a court must approve the final amount.