California child support laws can be confusing, especially if you’ve never dealt with them before. There are 3 frequently asked questions we often encounter:
1) What does child support cover?
2) How is child support calculated?
3) We split time equally, why am I paying child support?
What does child support cover?
California child support laws indicate that only ordinary living expenses for a child(ren) is covered. What they mean by ordinary living expenses is the day-to-day costs for child(ren) such as the fact that your rent or mortgage is higher living in a larger place with children than you might without children. Additionally, the cost of food when you have the child(ren), gas to drive them around, and expenses for things you do with them when it’s your parenting time.
It does not include childcare necessary for both parents to work, medical costs not paid for by insurance, travel expenses for visitation with the noncustodial parent, extracurricular activities, or a child’s education needs. Parents must specifically ask the judge to include these additional expenses when it comes to California child support laws. If they do not, the costs may be divided so each parent pays 50 percent. Because child support only covers the regular everyday costs the “extras” such as those listed here are split equally.
How is child support calculated?
The first part of how child support is calculated is the factors that are used to determine how child support is decided. When you’re discussing child support with your co-parent whether that’s on your own, in mediation, or in court you’re each required to complete an Income and Expense Declaration which will provide the following information:
- Your income from all sources. This is typically in the form of paystubs and tax returns. However, if you are self-employed or work as an independent contractor, you will be asked for additional information to determine what your monthly income is, such as your 1099s, P&L etc.
- The number of children you have.
- The amount of time each child spends at each parent’s household.
- Who is paying health insurance for the child(ren) and how much does that cost? Plus how much is health insurance for each parent
- Any (actual) mandatory deductions from your wages. This is true of most teachers (CalSTRS), other district employees (CalPERS), Lifeguards, Police, Firemen, County Employees, etc. We will discuss the difference between mandatory and voluntary deductions.
- Other allowable deductions (Union Dues, Extraordinary health-related expenses, Uninsured catastrophic losses, job-related expenses, responsibility to support other children or a previous spouse, and possibly others that are discussed as they surface).
- Tax filing status (head of household, joint, single, etc.)
- The number of exemptions included in your next tax filing.
Then child support is calculated using a formula. If you’d like to see how the support is calculated, you can ask your mediator for the support “audit” which provides you with a detailed step-by-step breakdown of how the formula has applied to your situation. The formula used is:
The guideline formula for computing child support is stated algebraically (Ca Fam § 4055(a)): CS = K [HN -(H%) (TN)] where,
CS = child support amount.
K = amount of income to be allocated for child support as set forth in Ca Fam § 4055(b)(3).
HN = high earner’s net monthly disposable income.
H% = approximate percentage of time the high earner has or will have primary physical responsibility for the children compared to the other parent (where the parents have different time-sharing arrangements for different children, H% equals the average of the approximate percentages of time the high earner spends with each child);
TN = total net monthly disposable income of both parties. [See Ca Fam § 4055(b)(1)].
In mediation, your mediator will run the support guidelines for you and discuss how those numbers were reached.
We split time equally, why am I paying child support?
Very often when parents are sharing time with the children 50/50 they ask me why they’re still paying child support, especially if both parents are working. With California child support laws, the court looks to provide the same standard of living to the children in each household. Thus, unless you make the exact same amount of money per year (down to the dollar) then the support guidelines determine that the higher-income earner is paying the child support of some amount. So if you make $130,000 and your co-parent makes $90,000 and you’re sharing two children 50/50 then you are still going to owe your co-parent child support since the incomes are not equal to provide the same quality of life for the children. California child support laws aim to equalize so that the income each household has for the children is relatively similar.
Even in situations where one parent makes only $5,000 more than the other one, there will be some sort of child support owed from the higher-earner spouse. Another question we often get then is can’t we just waive child support? The answer to that is no because child support belongs to the child(ren), not you. You could agree that neither parent will pay any child support at this time, but the court will ALWAYS retain jurisdiction over the right to award child support in the future until the child(ren) turns 18 and has graduated from high school.
When you go through mediation with us, we will accurately calculate child support and help you and your co-parent establish how other expenses will be paid. We will strive to predict possible future expenses and put guidelines in place so you and your co-parent will have a plan to resolve issues or conflicts as they arise.
by: Amanda Singer