A California Family Law Attorney’s Guide to Child Support

Child support is the amount of money a court can order a parent or both parents to pay every month for the expense of raising a child (or children). A judge determines the amount of child support based on a state-wide guideline and will issue a child support order. In California it is considered one of the most important responsibilities of a parent to financially support their children. It is also the policy of the State of California that children should share in the good fortune of their parents. This article serves as a guide on basic and general issues, questions and answers people want to know regarding child support laws in California.

How is child support calculated?

Primarily, child support is based on:

  • The income of the parties and
  • The parties’ timeshare with the children.

In determining income, the court looks at the net disposable income for each parent. This means the parent’s income after taxes, mandatory union dues, mandatory retirement contributions, health premiums, child or spousal support already being paid, and costs associated with raising children from another relationship. For purposes of determining child support, income is interpreted very broadly and is defined as “income from whatever source derived . . . and includes but is not limited to the following: Income such as commissions, salaries, royalties, wages, bonuses, rents, dividends, pensions, interest, trust income, annuities, workers’ compensation benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, disability insurance benefits, social security benefits, and spousal support actually received from a person not a party to the proceeding to establish a child support order under this article.”

The court will also base the support order on how much time the parent spends with the child. This is called time-share. The court will calculate the number of hours a parent physically spends with their child. Simply put, the less time a parent spends with a child, the more he or she may be ordered to pay in child support.

In Santa Clara County and most other counties, the court will use a computer program called a DissoMaster to calculate the support. Each parent’s gross income and time-share with the children is imputed into the program, along with other imputes to determine the net-disposable income of the parent and the base month child support amount.

Example of Child Support Arrangement

Mother and Father have two children. The children live primarily with Mother and visit Father 25% of the time. Father has a gross monthly income of $10,000 per month, and Mother has a gross income of $5,000 per month. Under this scenario, Father would pay Mother $1,520 per month in child support. If Mother and Father had a 50/50 time-share, Father would pay Mother $585 per month.

Other expenses can be ordered by the judge or agreed to by the parents, including:

  • Childcare;
  • Uninsured medical expenses medical bills;
  • Travel costs for visitation; and
  • Extracurricular activities such as sports, lessons, field trips, and other activities.

How Long Does a Parent Have to Pay Child Support?

A parent’s legal support duty continues until the child:

  • Turns 18 years of age, and has graduated from high school;
  • Turns 19 years old; or
  • Marries, dies, or is legally free in some way, such as joining the military.

Also, the court can order both parents to continue support for a disabled adult child if that child cannot support him or herself.

What if one parent receives bonus income in addition to his or her base salary?

Child support is meant to cover all income, including bonus income. When a parent receives non-regular income, such as periodic bonuses or even equity compensation, the court can issue a Smith/Ostler Bonus Order, whereby that parent is required to pay a percentage of any bonus he or she receives above his or her regular monthly wages. The DissoMaster has the capability of calculating the Smith/Ostler Bonus payments.

Example of Bonus Income Child Support Scenario

With the example above, Mother and Father have two children. Father earns $10,000 per month, and Mother earns $5,000 per month. The children spend 25% of their time with Father, and Father pays $1,520 per month in base child support. Per the DissoMaster bonus calculations, Father should pay about 12.5% of any bonus he receives over his base salary.

Can the court deviate from the amount stated in the DissoMaster?

The answer is yes. Parents can agree to deviate from guideline support and upon the request of one parent the court can deviate from the guideline support amount. However, there must be good cause, and the order for support must state the following:

  1. The amount of support that would have been ordered under the guideline formula;
  2. The reasons the amount of support ordered differs from the guideline formula amount; and
  3. The reasons the amount of support ordered is consistent with the best interests of the children.

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