What Does Child Support Cover in California and How Is It Calculated?

Child Support in California

Child Support in California Guidelines:

  • A parent’s first and principal obligation is to support his/her minor children
  • A parent shall pay the court-ordered child support payment as the first priority before payment of any debts owed to creditors.
  • Each parent has an equal responsibility to support the child.
  • The state uniform child support guidelines consider each parent’s actual income and level of responsibility for the children.
  • Courts are required to add to basic child support payments the costs for child care related to work, reasonable and necessary education/training, and reasonable child uninsured health care costs.
  • Courts may also include additional child support for the costs of a child’s special education and visitation travel expenses.
  • The court must order either or both parents to maintain health insurance if health insurance is available at no cost or nominal cost.
  • The income of the parties determines child support. Other factors that are considered include the number of children, tax filing status, and the share of physical responsibility for the child.
  • The court may allow income deductions for extreme financial hardship due to justifiable expenses, such as extraordinary health expenses, uninsured catastrophic losses, and minimum necessary living expenses of natural or adopted children who reside with the parent. (No hardship deduction if another supported child receives AFDC).
  • Support continues until age 19 while still in high school, completion of high school and over 18, or self-supporting. A disabled adult child is entitled to child support beyond this period.  Both parents are financially responsible for supporting their child(ren).
  • The custodial parent directly supports the child(ren) by providing housing, groceries, paying for school, clothing, health care, daycare, school activities, and other expenses. The noncustodial parent pays child support to help cover these costs.
  • The amount of child support to be paid by each parent is based on the amount of time each parent spends with the child and their net income. Welfare grants are not considered income to calculate child support.
  • Income is money from sources including self-employment, job wages, savings accounts, unemployment money, disability and worker’s compensation, and Social Security. The judge may consider the amount of money the parent could be making, instead of the parent’s actual income.
  • Net income is calculated by taking a person’s total income and subtracting certain expenses, such as federal and state income taxes, health insurance premiums, state disability insurance, and Social Security taxes. The judge may also consider other expenses, including the cost of raising a child from another relationship, extraordinary health care expenses, uninsured catastrophic losses, mandatory union dues, or retirement contributions.
  • Once each parent’s net income is calculated, the child support guideline is used to determine the percentage of net income to be paid as child support.  The example below is a general guideline for calculating child support. The final amount of child support is carefully determined by a judge based on individual case information.
  • The number of children in household Percent of net income 1 25% 2 40% 3 50%.
  • The judge also considers how much time each parent spends with the child(ren).

For example, the custodial parent and noncustodial parent have one child. The noncustodial parent’s net income is $2,000 per month, resulting in a child support share of $500 per month. (25% of 2,000). If the custodial parent’s net income is $1,500 per month, the child support share is $375 per month (25% of 1,500). These percentages are adjusted according to the amount of time each parent spends with the child.

What Does Child Support Cover in California

  • Child support covers only ordinary living expenses for a child. It does not include childcare, medical bills not paid by insurance, travel expenses for visitation with the noncustodial parent, or a child’s special education needs. Parents must explicitly ask the judge to include these additional expenses in the child support order. If they do not, the costs may be divided, so each parent pays 50 percent.
  • The law requires the judge to order one or both parents to provide health insurance coverage for their child(ren), including vision and dental care coverage if it is available through a job or group insurance plan at no or reasonable cost to the parent.

Important Note: The above guidelines are a simplified version of how the court calculates support. However, different circumstances in each case tailor the amounts of child support ordered by the court.

For specific information about the child support guidelines and formula, see the Statewide Uniform Guidelines for Determining Child Support listed in the California Family Code Sections 4050-4076.

When mediating at West Coast Family Mediation Center, 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.

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