How Do Courts Determine Child Support?

To the average person, “child support” is a vague term that refers to a certain amount of money one divorced parent must pay to the other divorced parent for their child (or children’s) general wellbeing. In reality, it covers very defined categories of expenses, including expenses for food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare. It can also include employment-related childcare costs, educational costs, and travel expenses for visitation. Below is a summary of how California courts determine how much each parent must contribute in child support.

Each Parent Must Contribute to Child Support

Each parent is legally required to support their child — a duty that continues even after the dissolution of the parents’ marriage. As such, the law requires both parents to contribute financially to their child’s support after a divorce. The amount of child support each parent must pay varies, and depends upon the parent’s income and the amount of time the parent has physical custody of the child.

Determining the Amount Each Parent Must Pay

In California, a parent pays child support out of his or her net disposable income. To calculate that amount, the court first calculates each parent’s annual gross income. This includes income derived from:

  • Wages, salaries, commissions, bonuses, etc.
  • Proprietorship of a business
  • Employee benefits

Next, to calculate net disposable income, the court subtracts the following expenses:

  • State and federal tax liabilities
  • FICA contributions
  • Mandatory union dues and retirement benefits
  • Health insurance premiums
  • Child support already being paid
  • Job-related expenses

Once the court calculates each parent’s net disposable income, it calculates the exact amount of child support each parent must pay using a complex mathematical formula that takes several factors into consideration, including:

  • The amount of both parents’ income to be allocated for child support
  • The higher-earning parent’s net disposable income
  • The approximate percentage of time that the high earner will have primary physical responsibly for the child compared to the other parent
  • The total net monthly disposable income of both parents

If the amount calculated from this formula is a positive number, the higher earner pays that amount to the lower earner; if the amount is negative, the lower earner pays the absolute value of that amount to the higher earner.

When Will the Court Deviate from California Child Support Formula?

The amount of child support that the court calculates using the above formula is considered to be the correct amount. However, the court may modify that amount upon a showing that:

  • The parties have stipulated to a different amount of child support (requires court approval)
  • The parent being ordered to pay child support has a very high income and the amount determined would exceed the child’s needs. (Though high income families may have higher cost needs than others.)
  • A party is not contributing to the needs of the child commensurate with that party’s custodial time
  • Both parents have substantially equal time-sharing of the child
  • The child has special needs that are not addressed by the court’s calculation

The court may also modify its calculation if it finds that application of the formula would be “unjust or inappropriate” in the particular case. Child support may also be modified by the Courts after the plan has already been in place.

Contact an Orange County Child Support Lawyer

For more information about child support in California, including an estimate of how much you might have to pay, please contact an Orange County and Irvine child support lawyer at Seastrom Tuttle & Murphy by calling us at 949-474-0800.