Issues concerning child support rank among the most important (if not in fact the most important) to parties in California divorce proceedings. Just because one's marital bonds and duties end doesn't mean parental responsibilities (of either parent) somehow cease.
At San Diego Divorce Attorney, we have deep experience in navigating even the most minute details of California child support laws and applying them effectively to the exact situations our clients find themselves in.
We will fight hard to ensure that you are treated fairly in regard to the child support issues related to your divorce case, whether or not you are the one filing for the divorce.
We understand how income, child custody, visitation, and a host of other issues impact a court's child support decisions; and we will work hard to ensure your rights are not disregarded or your financial situation misrepresented in the course of child support being calculated.
Contact us today by calling 858-529-5150, and we can discuss with you the details of your divorce and/or child support case in a free, no-obligation consultation.
The Purpose of Child Support Under California Law
The purpose of child support judgments under California law is to ensure that children are not deprived of reasonable care from both parents, including food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and at least a high school education.
California Family Code Section 4053 stipulates that it is the duty of both parents to support their children, insofar as they are capable of doing so. Children are to partake of the standard of living enjoyed by their parents.
California law allows that child support will also involve a raising of the standard of living of the custodial parent; and it presupposes that the custodial parent is contributing much of his/her income and time to caring for the child.
Child support is supposed to be arranged in the best interests of the child, while ensuring both parents are doing their duty to the children.
Problems With Child Support Law Enforcement
However well intentioned California's child support statutes may be, it is undeniable that they are often abused or evaded. If so, we at San Diego Divorce Attorney can help to correct the matter through legal means.
Here are a few common examples of how enforcement problems can develop:
- A custodial parent might deny a parent his/her legitimate visitation time because this can lead to an increase in the child support payment. This practice is termed "gatekeeping."
- Conversely, a non-custodial parent might only show up to use his/her visitation time in order to prevent the child support from increasing.
- Either parent may avoid being employed or purposefully remain underemployed. The non-custodial parent would do this in order to reduce how much child support has to be paid; the custodial parent would do it to increase how much the other parent has to pay and to simply avoid having to work.
- Either parent might hide part of their income in order to tip the child support formula "in their favor."
How Is Child Support Calculated?
There are numerous factors that can play into determining who has to pay child support and how much. And even though there are complex formulas laid down for calculating child support in the law code, the court is allowed to deviate from these, provided it explains why it did so and how it's actions are fair and in the best interests of the child.
First, although both parents must contribute to the support of their child, the non-custodial parent will pay any child support payment and the custodial parent will receive it and allocate it. The income levels of each parent will also be considered in determining who pays child support and how much.
But the custodial parent is presumed to already be spending a lot of his/her own income and time on the child. Thus, a custodial parent with equal income to the other parent might still get child support.
California uses a computer system to calculate child support, but this assumes that the data entered into the program is correct. And if evidence can be brought forward that the amount the computer recommends is in any way "inappropriate," one can petition for an adjustment.
Plus, if both parents can agree on an alternate child support plan, and the court reviews and approves it, that can be used as well.
However, the main factors used in the official formula are:
- Number of children to be supported.
- Net disposable income of each parent.
- Amount of parenting time each parent spends with the child.
Also realize that in cases of multiple children being supported, the youngest child gets "full support" and the amount is lowered a little for each additional child.
Finally, note that health insurance must also be provided along with the child support (or as part of it, really.) But only if the insurance can be had at no cost or at a "reasonable" cost (normally 5% or less of gross income.) And health insurance is also a "deduction" that can lower one's child support payment.
Child Support "Add Ons"
When certain special financial needs of a child arise, it is possible that an additional piece of "add-on" support may be required.
One example might be if a child needs braces. Uninsured health care costs are basically automatic add-ons, though the cost is often shared 50-50. However, the reasonableness of an uninsured health care expense can be challenged.
Child care costs can also be an add-on, and may also be split 50-50. Child care might be needed for the custodial parent to go to work or school, for example.
Most other add-on costs are "discretionary," meaning the court can decide the matter. Example would be the cost of attending a private school or engaging in extracurricular activities at/after school.
How Long Does Child Support Last?
Child support in California continues only until a child is 18 (legally an adult). But, if a child is 18 but still attending high school and living with one of his/her parents, support continues until age 19.
If a child dies, gets married, or joins the US Armed Forces, that will also end the child support.
It is possible for parents to agree to have child support continue beyond 18/19 even without anything legally ending it; but that is somewhat rare.
The Child Support Process In California
In most cases, a child support petition begins either during a divorce process, with a paternity filing, or through actions of the California Department of Child Support Services.
A child support "request for order" using Form FL-300 will be filed. The basis for the requested child support must be stated. And then, an income an expense declaration must be made (by both parents, ultimately.)
After being filed, the child support request will then be served to the other parent; and he/she must respond within a specific amount of time. These deadlines vary with how the request was served, but they can be less than a couple weeks long, so it's crucial to get a good lawyer and respond quickly.
Eventually, a child support hearing will be held, which both parents need to attend and testify at. The complexities of the law mean you do well to enter this hearing with skilled legal representation rather than "going it alone." Its decisions could affect you for years; and retroactive child support judgments are even possible.
But even after the decision of the court at the child support hearing, modifications to the child support order can be sought, based on such things as changes in income, time spent with the child, a parent having another child through a new relationship, or other relevant circumstances.
As to filing for a modification of a child support order, if you think you have a strong case, you are better off filing sooner than later. It takes time to file for modification and to wait for the legal system to work, and in the mean time the current order remains in effect. Plus, child support modifications won't usually go back retroactively (they will only apply going forward from the date of the new, modified order, if you win one.)
Often, such things as fear, laziness, busyness, or a desire to not "rock the boat" get in the way of filing for a modification promptly. Or, a job loss and change of income may be thought to be too temporary to merit a modification; but then, it drags on and you become financially unable to care for yourself and your child.
Thus, we can only reemphasize that filing for a modification should be done as soon as you are sure it is necessary, without any unnecessary delays.
Appealing A Child Support Order
It is not uncommon in child support cases that a judge may have failed to take into due consideration important facts that would have affected the ruling. If you believe this has happened in your case, you can opt to file an appeal and try to challenge the order issued by the Family Court.
For example, you can file a motion for reconsideration; but there will be strict requirements and strict deadlines. You can't go into an appeal without a lawyer who is familiar with all the protocols and who knows how to present your objections to the original child support order in the best possible light.
Many assume that appeals are an exercise in futility, a waste of time that can't possibly succeed. But, in reality, California Appellate Courts exist for a purpose - to correct mistakes of fact, law, or both, committed by lower courts. And there have been numerous appeals that have succeeded over the years. So, while it's true that most appeals do not succeed; if you have a strong case, yours could well be the exception.
Child Support Enforcement Policies
A court issuing a child support order is one thing, but enforcement is also a major issue. There are many cases we hear where one parent or the other has violated the law and taken advantage of the system in a wrong way. We know how to correct such matters through appropriate legal actions.
First, if a parent lied on his/her income declaration or on his/her tax returns, that will be perjury and can have serious potential consequences. Hiding income or assets to avoid paying as much child support is a serious offense. But there is also a difference between hiding income and merely forgetting to report it, so the case may be more complex than first meets the eye.
Next, consider the possibility of a parent lying about how much parenting time he/she invests or in how much the other parent invests. That would also be fraud and could have serious repercussions, including a readjustment of the child support order.
Purposefully remaining unemployed or underemployed to avoid paying child support is also a major offense. And a judge could even "impute" income to a parent based on their "earning capacity" if he/she is found to have plenty of skills and opportunity to work but just not a willingness to work.
Unpaid child support will also accumulated interest, besides the principal remaining due (on top of the current monthly child support payment). Child support arrears in California will accrue interest at the rate of 10 percent annually.
If someone simply refuses to pay child support, he/she can be held in contempt of the court order. This is a serious offense, not to be taken lightly.
Finally, we should note that if the other parent has fled to another state or even to a foreign country to avoid paying child support; there are agreements among state child support agencies and among some foreign countries that still make it possible (or even likely) that such an evasion will not succeed.
At San Diego Divorce Attorney, we understand the issues that arise in relation to California's child support laws, and we know how to ensure that you and your child's rights are respected.
Contact Us Today For Assistance
There is a veritable plethora of legal minutia associated with child support determinations under California law. We at San Diego Divorce Attorney have an intimate familiarity with these laws and know how they affect real-life parents and children in specific types of situations.
Our team of experienced attorneys can effectively represent you during your child support hearings, from the beginning to the end of the legal process, whether or not they are a part of a divorce case.
To learn more or for a free legal consultation on your divorce and/or child support situation, contact us today by calling 858-529-5150.