California Family Laws on Terminating Child Support

by Teo Spengler
A married man has two years to dispute paternity.

A married man has two years to dispute paternity.

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Both parents have a responsibility to provide for the financial needs of their minor children in California. When one parent asks for a child support order, the judge reviews the family's financial information and determines the amount the other parent must pay. The presumed father can terminate his obligation to pay child support by disproving paternity, and either parent can seek a modification based on changed circumstances. If not otherwise terminated, the child support obligation lasts until the child is emancipated.

Disputing Paternity

If a court orders a man to pay child support for a child he believes is not his, he can contest paternity; if he is successful, the judge will terminate his obligation to pay support. If the man was married to the child's mother when the child was born, the law "conclusively" presumes him to be father of the child in California. To overcome this presumption, he must ask the court to order blood tests within two years after the child is born. For unmarried parents, California courts presume that a man who receives a child into his home and openly declares the child to be his is the biological father. To contest this rebuttable presumption, he must ask the court to order blood tests to establish paternity.

Modifying Child Support

If one parent's financial well-being changes for the worse after child support is ordered, that parent can ask the court to modify the child support order based on changed circumstances. The California Family Code states that each parent's primary responsibility is to provide for his or her minor children, but the support amount may decrease as income decreases. A parent netting less than $1,000 a month is automatically eligible for a low-income adjustment to the child support amount as determined under California's child support guidelines. If a parent loses her job and has no net income or financial assets, the court may temporarily terminate her obligation to pay child support.

Awaiting Children's Emancipation

If a California court orders child support, the order generally terminates when the child turns 18 years old. If the child is still a full-time high school student living at home, the obligation continues until the child is 19 years old. While a court order cannot compel a parent to pay child support past the cutoff age, it can enforce an agreement made between the parents that support will continue until a later age. Any past-due child support is not affected by the current obligation being terminated. Additionally, the court may order both parents to continue supporting a disabled adult child if that child cannot support himself.

Exceptions to Automatic Termination

A California child support obligation may terminate before the child is of age if the child dies, gets married or joins the military. If the parent was paying support for only the one child, his child support obligation terminates at this point. However, if he pays support for more than one child, the child support order does not automatically change. Instead, he must ask the court to modify the child support order based on changed circumstances.