The federal Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984 requires that each state establish child support guidelines to help its courts calculate child support awards. In California, family law courts must use the state's support guidelines to establish the presumptive award based on parental net income and the amount of time each parent spends with her children. Judges may take additional factors into consideration, such as medical insurance costs and daycare expenses.
California courts use the state's child support guidelines to calculate child support awards in every case. Before a court hearing for child support, judges ask both parents to submit an itemization of their monthly income statements and total living expenses. Judges will then divide their support obligations according to their income shares. Although noncustodial parents can receive child support from custodial parents, or the parent who lives with the child, it is more common for noncustodial parents to pay child support payments to custodial parents.
The main factors that California courts will use in calculating payments are the number of minor children between the parents, each parent's annual gross income, deductions or tax offsets and additional costs or "add-ons." California law also allows judges to take financial hardship into account for parents who are unable to meet their daily living needs before paying support. Judges may also impute income or use a deemed income approach. This allows the court to gross income upwards when one parent is earning less than he is capable of earning. Courts will add on the reasonable costs of daycare, tuition, transportation and medical expenses to each parent's share.
Shared Custody Cases
Known as the "J Factor" in California, the amount of parenting time that noncustodial parents actually spend with their children can affect the amount of support they must pay. Generally, the more time a noncustodial parent spends with her child, the lower her child support obligation. California judges must use the presumptive child support guidelines in calculating awards. When a noncustodial parent spends the same amount of time as the custodial parent with her children, courts may simply divide the total obligation in half, and each parent will be financially liable for half of the total support. However, courts generally divide the responsibility in half when parents' incomes are substantially the same.
Modifications and Recalculations
Since there is a legal difference between shared legal custody and shared physical custody, knowing the difference between the two types of custody is important. Shared or joint legal custody allows each parent an independent right to participate in major decision-making involving the health and welfare of his children. However, shared physical custody is a joint custody arrangement allowing each parent an equal amount of visitation with his children. Courts will not typically modify child support payments for joint legal custody agreements. They will only adjust child support awards for parents who have joint physical custody. To modify a child support award based on increased or decreased parenting time, either parent can ask a California family law court to recalculate an award based on a change in circumstances. Increased parenting time qualifies as a change necessitating a recalculation and qualifies as a basis for modifying a support award.
Since state laws can frequently change, do not use this information as a substitute for legal advice. Seek advice through an attorney licensed to practice law in your jurisdiction.