Child support can be a difficult issue for newly separated parents to work out, especially if they are not getting along. Fortunately, the California Family Code provides a straightforward path to providing financially for children after a divorce. The courts apply a simple mathematical formula to calculate child support payments. This approach provides an equitable solution to what can otherwise be an emotionally charged problem.
Income Shares Model
California calculates the amount of child support a parent must pay according to the income shares model. Pursuant to state law, this model is based on the belief that children should enjoy the same standard of living as when their parents were still married. An algebraic formula is used to calculate the amount of child support. An on-line child support calculator is provided on California’s Department of Child Support Services website.
Calculating Disposable Income
Calculating disposable income is critical to determining the amount of child support in California. The algebraic formula includes the high earner’s net monthly disposable income and the total net monthly disposable income of both parents. Monthly disposable income is then calculated by looking to the monthly gross income offset by various expenses. Gross income includes commissions, salaries, royalties, wages, bonuses, rents, dividends, pensions, interest, trust income, annuities, workers' compensation benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, disability insurance benefits and social security benefits. It also includes spousal support received from a previous marriage and profit derived income from a business, such as a sole proprietorship or partnership. This total is offset by subtracting state and federal taxes, FICA or other retirement contributions, union dues, health insurance premiums, other child support and job-related expenses.
The formula used to calculate child support does not include child care, medical bills not covered by insurance, education, travel costs for visitation or special needs, including those due to a chronic medical condition or a learning disability. California law provides that a court may order a parent to pay these additional costs in addition to child support.
Agreement for Child Support
Parents can agree to an amount of child support higher than the amount arrived at using the state’s formula because such agreements, or stipulations, benefit the child. In rare instances, California courts may allow parents to stipulate to a lesser amount, for example, when one parent has an extraordinarily high income, the algebraic formula is not likely to be helpful because the calculated child support would bear no relationship to the actual needs of the child.
Modifying Court Orders
A child support order can be modified if the circumstances of the parents or child changes. For example, if the disposable income of one parent becomes significantly higher because of a job change, the child support amount may be proportionally increased according to the formula. The California Department of Child Support Services can be helpful in initiating such a change. However, if the circumstances of a parent changes due to remarriage, the court will not factor in the new spouse's income.