A Mandatory Obligation For Both Parents To Support Their Minor Children
California law imposes an equal obligation on both parents to support their minor children to the best of their ability according to their general stations in life. This is true for children both natural and adopted, whether or not their parents were married or had a one-night stand.
A parent who intentionally chooses not to work, or to work at a level below his or her ability, is subject to having his or her income “imputed” by the court. That is, the court may hold him or her accountable for a higher income whether or not it is actually being earned. This higher amount is considered the parent’s earning capacity.
California Statutory Guideline Child Support
The Family Code contains a complex formula to determine guideline child support. That formula has been implemented by a number of computer programs that are approved by the courts to calculate child support, including DissoMaster, XSpouse, and SupporTax.
California guideline child support is dependent upon a number of factors, including:
- The amount of income each parent is able to earn
- The percentage of time each parent spends with the child(ren)
- The number of children that require financial support
- The tax filing status of each parent
- The health insurance expense of each parent
- Any mandatory or voluntary retirement contributions by each parent
- Child care costs, education costs and other expenses
Although the formula is called “guideline,” the support amount calculated is actually a mandatory amount. There can be some wiggle room in terms of the inputs into the formula; however, once those inputs have been set, the court is required to impose the calculated amount in the absence of parental agreement to some other amount.
Sometimes parents choose to abandon California guideline child support and agree to a different amount than what the formula calculates. The court will have to approve this deviation, but virtually always does so if the parents agree that this alternate amount is in their children’s best interests.
Length Of Child Support Obligation
Child support is a financial obligation typically owed to a child until that child turns 18 and has graduated high school, or turns 19 without having graduated high school and is still a full-time student. A child who becomes emancipated, marries or forms a domestic partnership, or who dies is also no longer eligible for child support.
Parents of adult disabled children may have an ongoing duty of child support regardless of the child’s age depending on the level of disability and the child’s ability to support him/herself. Severely disabled children may need to be supported for their entire lives.
The California Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) is the government agency charged with enforcing the financial support rights of children. Parents have the option of seeking enforcement of child support obligations through DCSS, and oftentimes do so when they have difficulty collecting support on their own. When a parent opens a DCSS case, the issue of child support is removed from the court department that handles other aspects of the case, and is assigned to a specific department that has been specially funded by the state for purposes of hearing only DCSS child support cases.
Child support in California is generally payable by wage assignment, although there are exceptions and in many cases support is still paid directly from one parent to the other each month. Prior to 2006, wage assignments were directly payable to the other parent. In May 2006, under direction of the federal government, DCSS created the California State Disbursement Unit (SDU), a central payment processing site that today collects and processes all child support payments made via wage assignment, regardless of whether DCSS has intervened in the case to enforce child support obligations. The SDU also collects and processes all support payments made directly by a parent without a wage assignment in DCSS cases.
Child Support Is Serious
The financial consequences of child support orders can be significant, and we can advise you on how best to pursue financial support for your child(ren) or enforce your existing support order. We can also help you fend off an unreasonable demand for child support by the other parent. It is critically important to understand that a child support order remains in effect until replaced by a subsequent order or the child reaches the age when jurisdiction ends. If you have lost your job or your income, don’t rely on a so-called “agreement” with the other parent to suspend support, but take steps to obtain a court order that suspends support. In our experience, these agreements generally don’t hold water when there is a dispute about child support before the court, and you may find yourself owing thousands – or even tens of thousands – of dollars in unpaid support and interest.
Contact us or call (925) 465-2500 or (707) 398-6008 for more information or to schedule an initial consultation at Sparks Family Law, Inc. with attorney Gary D. Sparks.