To put it simply, child support is money paid by one parent to another on a monthly basis to provide financial support for one or more children. But in reality, child support is often far from simple.
The idea behind child support is to divide the costs associated with raising a child, or children, equitably between the parents, but often times family law litigants find child support in California to be incredibly confusing and completely arbitrary. Those who receive support often feel it’s nowhere near enough to feed, clothe, and shelter a child. For those who are paying support, it seems like too much money is going out of pocket to be spent on unknown child-related expenses, and they often feel they are supporting the other parent instead of their own children.
It is the state’s goal for children to share in the standard of living of both parents. Child support paid from one parent to another parent is intended to minimize the disparities in living standards in the parents’ now separate homes. While this sounds great and reasonable in theory, this approach can result in both parents reducing their respective standards of living as they take one-household and turn it into two, but with the same budget from one they were one single household.
At the end of the day, a parent’s first and foremost obligation is to support his or her minor children. In California, this obligation is gender-neutral, meaning that mothers and fathers have equal responsibility to pay for the support of their children to the best of their ability. There is no way around it. In fact, by law the right to receive support belongs to the minor child and cannot be waived by the parents.
California has established a uniform state guideline designed to create a fair and efficient method of calculating child support. This guideline takes into account California’s high cost of living and is presumed to be the correct amount of child support in all cases. In determining the amount of child support, the two most important factors are a parent’s gross monthly income and how much time they spend with their children on a monthly basis.
The guideline calculation under California law is considered to be presumptively correct. However, there are limited circumstances where the Court has the discretion to deviate up or down from the guideline calculation if a parent can prove that application of the guideline formula would be unjust or inappropriate based on the circumstances of the case pursuant to California Family Code §4057. These limited circumstances include:
- Cases in which the parents have different time-sharing arrangements for different children.
- Cases in which both parents have substantially equal time-sharing of the children and one parent has a much lower or higher percentage of income used for housing than the other parent.
- Cases in which the children have special medical or other needs that could require child support that would be greater than the formula amount.
- Cases in which a child is found to have more than two parents.”
In addition to guideline child support, health insurance coverage is mandated and the law in California requires that one or both parents must provide health insurance for their minor children if that insurance is available at no cost or reasonable cost.
California also has several mandatory child support add-ons that can increase one’s child support obligation. Parents must share in the cost of uninsured health care costs, with the most common being medical, dental and vision related costs. In addition, parents must share in childcare costs that one or both parents pay so that they can work or for any necessary education or training. Voluntary add-ons that can add to support but are not required include private school costs, extracurricular activity costs and travel expenses paid to exercise visitation.
Even after support orders are in place, if either party’s income changes or the Court modifies the visitation schedule, child support will not automatically re-adjust. Often times parents do not realize, that when circumstances change, they need to file with the Court to modify their support orders as soon as possible. Failure to do so can create real complications as one party can suffer a significant decrease in income but will continue to owe support based on their previous higher income until their support obligation is formally modified by the Court. In addition, if a party falls behind on support, back due child support cannot be waived by the Court and can only be waived by agreement of the parties. Ultimately child support is different in every situation and unique to every family. Contact a qualified family law attorney to help ensure your orders are fair and your children are provided for.
-By Shayda Nassirian, Esq.