Child Support in California: Common Misconceptions

Child Support in California

Child support in California can be confusing and you may have heard some common beliefs that are inaccurate. Here are a few common misconceptions we encounter as San Diego divorce mediators.

You can’t mediate child support 

In California, we use a formula to calculate child support. It is a formula that takes a handful of facts (income, time with your child, cost of health insurance, your tax filing status, etc.) and produces a number that, according to the State of California, is a fair and reasonable amount for the payee, based on the specific circumstances that were given. This amount is termed “Guideline Child Support,” because it is following the guidelines.

If parties do not agree with the number, then a couple can absolutely mediate the issue and can agree on a number that is different than the guideline number provided. When it comes to child support in California, there is no requirement that the guideline is followed if the parties agree to a different amount or no amount at all. The fact that the guideline number is not being followed will need to be explained in the parties’ Marital Settlement Agreement, and the support calculation will still need to be prepared and attached to the party’s agreement, but in mediation, like all other issues, the parties maintain control over the final decision.    

If we share time with the children 50/50, no child support will be paid

I often have clients say something to the effect of “we plan to share time 50/50 with our son or daughter, so why will I be required to pay support?” 

As a long-time San Deigo divorce mediator, I have seen several unique issues so I can certainly understand where this logic comes from. However, this is what needs to be considered; if both parents earn the same or very similar income, then it is highly likely there will NOT be any child support. Alternatively, if the parents make significantly different incomes (which is more often the case), the guideline child support formula is used to equalize the parties so that each parent has an equal amount of income to pull from to pay their rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries, clothes, gas, etc. Child support is used as a tool to ensure the children can enjoy the same or similar standard of living in each household. 

My co-parent must ONLY spend the child support on my child

Child support in California is provided to the receiving parent to help her or him pay for the day-to-day necessities of life. If 100% of the child support is put towards rent or mortgage, that is perfectly fine. If it is used to purchase new furniture for the home the children will live in, that is fine too. Each dollar of child support is not earmarked to be used in a specific place or on a specific item. It is up to the receiving parents discretion to use it as they deem fit for the benefit of the children overall – which can be where they live, what they eat, etc.  

My co-parent must provide me with receipts of what my child support was spent on  

 As touched in the above two points, this is not a requirement. I have had clients propose this to the other parent and have had some clients expect it. This is not something that the receiving parent will be required to provide to the payor parent.  

When my child turns 18, child support will end  

 Maybe. Child support will extend until the child turns 18, or graduates high school, whichever happens last. So for example, if your child turns 18 in January, but will not graduate high school until June, then the child support will continue through their graduation.  

 There may be other circumstances where child support will extend beyond 18 or graduating from high school. If you believe your family may need an exception to this rule, for whatever reason, please bring this up in your mediation and we will discuss it.  

 And of course, the parties may always agree to extend child support beyond 18/graduation if they choose.  

If I don’t want to pay so much child support, I can just quit my job, or take a lesser-paying position

 This is not a good idea for many reasons. The most important of which, are your children – why would you not want to support them? Beyond that, if you have consistently been a high earner throughout the marriage, and you decide to quit your job voluntarily and take a lesser-paying job, the court may find that you are under-employed and decide to impute income to you. 

On the flip side, if the other parent has been out of work for a long duration to raise the children and now your children are self-sufficient and do not need the same amount of the parent’s time, the court will expect that parent to go out and earn a living as well. The length of time the court will allow for a parent who has spent several years only working in the home, to increase their skill set and reestablish themselves in the marketplace, will vary between cases based on each case’s specific circumstances. More often than not, everyone is required to become self-supporting at some time in the future.


When you’re in 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 the plan to resolve issues or conflicts as they arise. Contact West Coast Family Mediation.

by: Jennifer Segura

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