Services: CHILD SUPPORT

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What is Child Support?

Child support is financial support usually provided by the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent, used for the care, support and living expenses of the child.

California Family Code § 3900 states that the father and mother of a minor child have an equal responsibility to support their child in a manner suitable to the child’s circumstances. Parents have a duty to support their child who is unmarried, 18 years old, is a full-time high school student, and who is not self-supporting. This duty continues until the child completes the 12th grade or turns 19 years old, whichever happens first (Cal. Fam. Code § 3901).

If a parent has a duty to support their child and willfully fails to do so, the other parent may bring an action against the parent to enforce that duty (Cam. Fam. Code § 4000).

How do I Get an Order for Child Support?

Child support actions can be brought through a court action or through the Department of Child Support Services via a local child support agency.

To bring a court action for child support where the parents are married, either the mother or father must file:

  • A dissolution of marriage
  • A legal separation
  • A nullity of marriage (annulment)
  • Petition for custody and support of minor children
  • Domestic Violence Restraining Order

To bring a court action for child support where the parents are unmarried, either the mother or father must file:

  • Petition to establish the parental relationship
  • Petition for custody and support of minor children
  • Domestic Violence Restraining Order

To bring an action for child support through the Department of Child Support Services, either parent can contact the local child support agency and start an action.

Once any of these actions have been filed, a court may make orders for child support from one or both parents. Once a court order has been issued, either parent can request modifications for a change in circumstances, such as: changing jobs, loss of a job, incarceration, bankruptcy, military deployment or any other change in circumstances that would affect a parent’s ability to pay child support.

What Does a Court Consider in Making Child Support Orders?

Calfornia Family Code § 4053 states that when making child support orders, a court will abide by the following principles:

  • A parent’s first and principal obligation is to support their minor children according to the parent’s circumstances and station in life.
  • Both parents are responsible for supporting their children.
  • The statewide uniform guidelines regarding child support will take into account each parent’s income and level of responsibility.
  • Each parent should pay child support according to their ability.
  • The children’s best interests are the state’s top priority.
  • Children should share in the standard of living of both parents. Child support may improve the standard of living of the children’s custodial household to improve the lives of the children.
  • The children’s financial needs should be met through private financial resources as much as possible.

How are Child Support and Parenting Time-Related?

Typically, the more time a parent has with the child, the more child support they will need to care for the child. However, parents may have ulterior motives that can make this relationship complicated:

  • A parent may seek parenting time that they don’t actually want or can’t handle to decrease their child support obligations.
  • A parent may refuse to seek employment in order to avoid child support payments.
  • A parent may lie about their income in order to decrease their child support payments.

How is Child Support Calculated?

The calculation of child support in California looks at three main factors:

  1. The number of children entitled to support
  2. The amount of parenting time each parent has with the children
  3. Each parent’s income

(Cal. Fam Code § 4055)

In California, guideline child support is determined by computer programs which calculate child support based on the factors described above. This guideline child support amount is presumed correct.

If a court wants to deviate from the guideline child support, there needs to be a valid, legal reason for changing the child support amount. These can include:

  • The parents agreeing on a different amount of child support
  • The parent paying child support has an extraordinarily high income and, under the child support formula, the amount of child support exceeds the children’s needs
  • A parent is not paying support at a level proportional to their custodial or parenting time
  • Application of the child support formula is unjust or inappropriate due to special circumstances, such as, but not limited to:
    • Cases where the parents have different time-sharing arrangements for different children
    • Cases where both parents have equal time with the children and one parent has a much higher or much lower percentage of income used for housing than the other parent
    • Cases where the children have special medical or other needs that require more child support than the formula calculated
    • Cases where a child is determined to have more than two parents

(Cal. Fam. Code § 4057)

How are Child Support Payments Made?

Child support payments can be made directly from one parent to the other, at a local child support agency’s office or deducted from the paying parent’s paychecks.

What Happens if a Parent Fails to Pay Child Support?

If a parent fails to pay their court-ordered child support on time and in full, the past-due, unpaid child support, or arrears, will be owed with interest at a rate of 10% per year.

If the parent who owes child support does not voluntarily pay the unpaid child support payments, there are certain steps that can be taken to collect child support, such as:

  • Credit reporting – every payment and/or failure to pay is reported to major credit reporting agencies
  • Passport denial – when a person owes $2,500 or more in arrears, the U.S. Department of State will not issue or renew a passport until all child support arrears are paid
  • Property liens – a real property lien can be filed against the property of a parent who owes child support, so that when the property is sold a partial or full payment will be applied to the past-due support
  • State license suspension and revocation – Driver’s licenses, occupational, recreation, sporting licenses, and permanent state-issued professional licenses can be suspended or revoked until past-due child support is collected
  • Intercepted benefits – California Public Employees Retirement benefits, Social Security benefits, and Unemployment or Disability Insurance benefits can be intercepted to pay past-due child support

A parent who fails to make child support payments can also be held in contempt of the court’s order. This means that parent has disobeyed the court’s orders and a court can issue new orders to enforce the child support orders.

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