Child Support Rules & Guidelines in California

by Shelly Morgan
As long as the legal minimum is satisfied, parents can arrive at their own child support agreements.

As long as the legal minimum is satisfied, parents can arrive at their own child support agreements.

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Child support law can provide an island of sanity, even if your divorce is marked by acrimony. Instead of arguing about spousal support and alimony or rehashing old grievances, parents can come together about the one thing they both care about – their children. This focus is reflected in the very first sentences of the California Family Code, which state that the interests of children are the top priority of California child support laws.

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If the father denies that he is the parent, the first step is to establish paternity of the children. A birth certificate will not establish paternity. In some cases, the court can order him to undergo genetic testing to determine if he is the father. If the alleged father goes out of state and his whereabouts are known, he can be served with a complaint and an order for child support can be issued. Such orders can be enforced, regardless whether the father lives.

Calculating Child Support

The amount of child support a parent is required to pay is mathematically determined and is based upon the income of both parents. The calculation considers the total disposable income of both parents, the percentage of time each parent physically takes care of the child, and a multiplier that takes into account the amount of both parents' income allocated for child support. The court won’t consider the income of a new spouse or nonmarital partner, except in an extraordinary case when excluding the income would inflict extreme hardship on the child. In that case, the court would also consider whether including that income would inflict hardship on any other child the payor spouse and the new spouse or nonmarital partner supports.

Modifying a Child-Support Order

The amount of child support that a parent must pay can be changed by petitioning the court for modification. If a parent is laid off from work, she should consider immediately notifying the County Department of Child Support Services. Likewise, if you have custody of your children and you allow them to live with the non-custodial parent on a long-term basis, you should consider promptly notifying the Child Support Services office. In most counties, Requests for Modification can be made on line and submitted electronically.


Failure to pay child support can lead to wage garnishment and tax refunds being intercepted. In some cases, failure to pay child support can even lead to jail. The state takes the duty to pay child support so seriously that even bankruptcy does not discharge the duty to pay overdue support.

Age Limitations

Children are entitled to receive child support until their 18th birthday. If a child has not graduated from high school, however, she is entitled to receive child support until she graduates or until her 19th birthday, whichever comes first. The law encourages parents to support their children, regardless of age.