How is California Child Support Calculated?
California uses a child support formula to determine the base monthly child support amount. The factors include the number of children, their ages, and the incomes of the parents. Depending on the variables plugged into the formula, the base child support payment will be anywhere from $200 up to $3,500 per month. When the Washington legislature put this formula together, the idea was that it would cover the basic, recurring expenses associated with raising children – primarily food, clothing, and housing. The formula is statewide, meaning that there is no adjustment made depending on where the children live.
Child Support & High Income Households
In addition, the base support formula maxes out for high-income households. Generally speaking, if you make more money, then you can expect to pay more child support. However, once the parents’ combined net income hits $12,000 a month, the child support formula stops taking into account any increase in income when determining child support. In other words, all else being equal, the parent making $150,000 and the parent making $1,500,000 in net salary will have the same basic child support amount under the state formula.
For the most part, there are few material issues that arise in using the child support formula, particularly where both parents are standard, W-2 employees. However, where either parent has income from a business, irregular income, or substantial wealth, determining income can be more difficult. For these individuals, tax returns (typically an authoritative source for determining income) can be either misleading or unhelpful. In these instances, having an experienced divorce attorney who can readily identify income sources and calculate an individual’s true income is highly valuable.
Expenses Not Included in California’s Base Child Support Amount
The base child support formula amount is meant to cover housing, food, and clothing (and other de minimis expenses). However, there are three broad categories that are not covered by the base formula amount: health care costs, daycare costs, and extra-curricular activities. When crafting the base support formula, the legislature determined that these three categories varied far too widely from household to household and so could not be reduced to a straightforward, formulaic determination.
Instead, courts allocate these costs pro rata, based on each parent’s income. Where parents each make the same amount of money, they will split these out of pocket costs 50/50. Where the father makes twice as much as the mother, he will pay 2/3 of these out of pocket costs.
This is often a source of conflict as one parent will incur a cost that the other deems unreasonable, whether it be an out of network health care provider or an extra-curricular activity to which the other parent does not agree. When these child support disputes go to family court, judicial officers are generally guided by their sense of what is reasonable. If a child has an established and beneficial relationship with a therapist that is suddenly no longer in-network due to insurance changes, and if the parents both make good money, then the court will probably order both parents to pay the increased cost of therapy. However, where one parent, over the objection of the other parent, signs up a child for a ten-day NASA Summer Space Camp at Yale University (with a field trip to the UN thrown in for good measure) for $15,000, then the court will likely not require the other parent to contribute to the cost.
People who look at the above examples and recognize the likely court outcomes as reasonable will almost never need a family law attorney to go to court to argue about child support issues. People who look at the above examples and do not recognize the likely court outcomes as reasonable will almost always need an attorney to argue about these issues. You know who you are.
Courts Can Deviate from Standard Child Support Amounts
The formula and cost allocations described above can be altered if either parent has a good reason for doing so. Typically, most deviations take the form of increases and are for covering specific costs associated with children. Deviations are somewhat rare and include things like the special needs of disabled children (including medical, educational, and psychological costs). It is also possible to reduce the standard child support amount if the children spend equal time with both parents (though courts will usually only do this where the parties have similar incomes).
The key to obtaining a deviation is identifying with specificity the cost associated with the deviation. Simply stating that there are special costs, without showing what those costs are, will not be sufficient to obtain a deviation from the standard formula amount.
College Costs Can Be Included in California Child Support
California allows for college expenses to be included in a child support order. Where children are young, courts generally reserve the issue until the children are teenagers, at which point it is easier to determine both whether the children will likely go to college and what resources their parents have for paying the cost. In this instance, however, it is imperative to return to family court before the child turns 18 or graduates from High School – failure to do so will result in the court losing jurisdiction to award college support.
In determining whether to make an award of college support, courts look primarily at the aptitude of the child and the income of the parents. In essence, the court tries to determine whether the parents would have financially supported the child in college had they stayed married. If the court decides the answer is yes, then the court will order the parents to financially support the child in college. Somewhat curiously, this has the unintended effect of reducing social mobility and reinforcing class hierarchies – children from families that are not deemed “college material” (i.e. from blue-collar families) are not, under current law, entitled to court-ordered financial support to attend college.
Contact our Knowledgeable California Child Support Lawyers Today
Child support in California can be complicated, but the family law attorneys at S.L. Pitts have the experience and knowledge to help you understand what goes into the calculations. They have represented clients in both Seattle, Washington and Los Angeles, California in divorce matters for decades. Whether you are seeking to establish child support, enforce an order, or modify an order, our divorce attorneys are here to help. We can help navigate you through this sensitive matter and reach a fair outcome for both you and your children. Contact us today to book an appointment with one of our skilled Los Angeles, California child support attorneys today.