December 31, 2009

Child Support -101

Posted in Child Support tagged at 12:48 am by demetriagraves

Understanding the laws regarding child support in California can be a challenge. That’s why it’s important to find a Family law attorney who can help guide you in the right direction. Many of my clients have asked me to do a summary of the main factors that are considered in California law. The courts use a uniform guideline to determine child support. The main principles of this guideline are given below along with some other basics that parents should be aware of.

It does not matter if you are an adoptive parent or a biological parent, you will be expected to help provide for that child until they turn 18, unless the child has not graduated from high school, in which case the child support continues until the child has graduated high school or becomes 19, which ever occurs first. Presently, the law does not give judges the power to make a parent support a child beyond the age of 19, unless the child is physically or mentally disabled. However, the parents can agree that child support is to continue into the college years, and such an agreement will be enforced by the Family Law Court. The quantity you have to pay will be based on your gross income.

Child support payments may be altered if there is a change in income or living arrangements of the child.

The custody and visitation arrangements regarding a minor child can be changed until the child turns 18. If the child’s welfare is of concern, the order can be changed.

In California a statewide uniform guideline is used by the courts to determine child support, which adheres to the following principles [Ca Fam § 4053]:

    1. Support duty commensurate with parents’ economic circumstances: “A parent’s first and principal obligation is to support his or her minor children according to the parent’s circumstances and station in life.”
    2. Mutual support duty: “Both parents are mutually responsible for the support of their children.”
    3. Formula reflects income and responsibility: “The guideline takes into account each parent’s actual income and level of responsibility for the children.”
    4. Obligation tied to ability to pay: “Each parent should pay for the support of the children according to his or her ability.”
    5. Child’s interests of paramount importance: “The guideline seeks to place the interests of the children as the state’s top priority.”
    6. Award to reflect parents’ standard of living–even if custodial parent incidentally benefits: “Children should share in the standard of living of both parents. Child support may therefore appropriately improve the standard of living of the custodial household to improve the lives of the children.”
    7. Award to reflect increased household costs because of time-sharing; equalized household standards of living: “Child support orders in cases in which both parents have high levels of responsibility for the children should reflect the increased costs of raising the children in two homes and should minimize significant disparities in the children’s living standards in the two homes.”
    8. Priority on “private” funding of child support: “The financial needs of the children should be met through private financial resources as much as possible.”
    9. Presumptive support contributions by primary caretaker: “It is presumed that a parent having primary physical responsibility for the children contributes a significant portion of available resources for the support of the children.”
    10. Settlements favored: “The guideline seeks to encourage fair and efficient settlements of conflicts between parents and seeks to minimize the need for litigation.”
    11. Formula amount presumptively correct: “The guideline is intended to be presumptively correct in all cases, and only under special circumstances should child support orders fall below the child support mandated by the guideline formula.”
    12. Award to reflect State’s “high” living standards and child-rearing costs: “Child support orders must ensure that children actually receive fair, timely, and sufficient support reflecting the state’s high standard of living and high costs of raising children compared to other states.”

The statewide uniform guideline displaces a good body of earlier case law dealing with “discretionary” child support; “a trial court no longer has the broad discretion in ordering child support which it had prior to the enactment of the new statutory scheme effective July 1, 1992.” Nonetheless, legislative history indicates it was never the intent to eliminate family law judges’ traditional discretionary authority to adjust child support orders in individual cases where fairness so requires. Thus, whether “fairness” permits the exercise of discretion in fixing a particular child support award itself must be determined with reference to the statutory guideline factors and policy directives as applied to the parties’ circumstances as a whole.

Bottom Line is the courts use a Computer Program Named “DissoMaster” which plugs in the appropriate numbers, such as Income of both Parties, “Timeshare” (how much time each party spend with the child/children), Mortgage Payments, Child Care, etc.  Once the numbers are plugged in there is the “Guideline” Child Support Number.

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