How Is Child Support Calculated in California?

The basics of child support in California are the same whether the parents were married or never in a committed relationship.

California law outlines how child support is calculated. Like all states, child support is a complex formula that takes many elements into consideration. Two leading factors are the time the child spends with each parent and each parent’s net disposable income.

Income Shares Model for Child Support

The income shares model means that the child would receive the same percentage of parental income they would have received if they lived under one roof. California, and most other U.S. states, use this model.

Let’s look at an example where monthly expenses for the child equal $1,000. The higher-earning parent is the custodial parent and represents 60% of the net disposable income. The lower-earning non-custodial parent would be responsible for paying the $400 monthly (40%). If the situation was switched and the lower-earning parent was the custodial parent, the non-custodial parent would be responsible for paying $600 each month in child support.

Net Disposable Income for Support Calculations

Net disposable income is derived by subtracting from gross income such items as mandatory union dues, health insurance premiums for the parent and children, certain taxes, and child support or alimony paid to someone not involved in the current case.

Gross income includes wages, salaries, bonuses, investment income, pensions, spousal support from previous relationships, and benefits such as workers' compensation.

After the basic child support amount is determined, that amount is multiplied by a factor if there is more than one child involved:

  • 1.6 for two children
  • 2 for three children
  • 2.3 for four children
  • 2.5 for five children

The multiplier continues to increase as the number of children increases.

Judicial Authority to Go Outside Standard Rules

The presumed calculation can be rebutted if shown to be unjust or inappropriate due to special circumstances.

Deviating from the guidelines (higher or lower) is permissible in the following situations:

  • The child has special medical needs that require more support.
  • The standard guidelines would require too much support because the paying parent has an exceptionally high income.
  • The parents have different time-sharing arrangements for different children.

Any change from the standard guidelines must still meet the state’s requirement of putting the needs of the child first, including having the same standard of living with both parents. A judge may also approve a departure from the standard child support in a marital settlement agreement if the amount adheres to the law.

Child Support Can Be Modified

Child support is mandatory until the child turns 18 (19 if they are still in high school), gets married, joins the military, or otherwise becomes legally emancipated. During those years, the child's needs may change, or the parents' circumstances may shift.

Significant changes can justify the modification of child support:

  • The child develops an illness or injury that increases their need.
  • A parent involuntarily loses their job.
  • A parent develops an illness or injury that impacts their income.
  • A parent is incarcerated.
  • The time-share arrangement has changed.

Speak with an Attorney About Your Child Support Obligations

If you are seeking a change to the current child support obligation or are calculating support for the first time, speak with our experienced attorneys at Palmer Rodak & Associates.

Our law firm distinguishes itself in two important ways. First, when you hire us, you benefit from our entire legal team – not just one attorney. Second, our firm is led by Principal Attorney Matthew E. Palmer, a Certified Family Law Specialist by the State Bar of California. This designation illustrates a high level of family law experience and knowledge.

If you have questions about child support or other family law issues, reach out to us. Schedule a consultation by contacting us online or calling (760) 573-2223.