Each parent has an equal responsibility to provide for their child's financial needs. However, the court can only enforce this obligation if it issues a maintenance order. If the parents separate, one parent must apply to the court for a decision to establish parentage (paternity) and also request the court to make a decision on child support.
Child support is usually paid until the children turn 18 (or 19 if they are still in full-time high school, living at home and unable to fend for themselves).
Either parent can ask the judge to issue a child support order in one of the following types of cases:
- Divorce, legal separation or annulment (if the parents are married or in a civil partnership);
- APetition to establish a parental relationship(for unmarried parents);
- A domestic violence restraining order (for married or unmarried parents);
- AApplication for custody and maintenance of minor children(for parents who have signed a voluntary declaration of parentage or paternity OR are married or registered partners and do not wish to separate or divorce legally)
Learn more athow to apply for child supportin1 of these types of court proceedings. Either parent can later ask the judge to change the amount of child support if the situation changes. Learn more aboutAmendment of a child support order.
Child support may also be ordered as part of a case filed by the local child support authority (LCSA), the local government agency in each county that provides services for determining parentage and preparing and enforcing child support orders. Here's how:
- If either parent has received public support (such as TANF – Temporary Assistance to Families in Need), the LCSA automatically files a child support claimnoncustodial parent. The case also includes as a party thesupervisorreceiving public support.
- Any parent can ask the LCSA to provide child support, which will then initiate a child support case.
- If a child is in foster care, the LCSA may initiate alimony proceedings against one or both parents.
- Any parent can ask the LCSA to handle the enforcement of a child support order in a family law case (such as a divorce or parenting case).
Experiencemore about the local youth welfare officeand the Department of Child Care Services.
California has a statewide formula (referred to as a "guideline") for figuring out how much child support should be paid.
If the parents cannot agree on child support, the judge decides the amount of child support based on the benchmark calculation.
The straightening calculation depends on:
- how much money the parents earn or can earn;
- How much other income does each parent receive?
- How many children do these parents have together;
- How much time does each parent spend with their children (time share);
- The actual status of each parent's tax return;
- caring for children from other relationships;
- health insurance costs;
- Mandatory union dues;
- Mandatory pension contributions;
- The cost of sharing day care and uninsured healthcare costs; and
- other factors.
The child support order may also require the parents to share the costs of:
- childcare to enable the parent to work or receive training or schooling for job skills;
- Adequate Health Spending for Children;
- travel to visit from one parent to another;
- educational needs of children; and
- Other special needs.
The indicative amount is assumed to be correct. The judge can only order anything other than the guide amount in very limited situations. (Read thisCalifornia Family Code Sections 4052 through 4057for more details on how child support is calculated and what the judge can do.)
To estimate how much child support the judge can order in your case, go toCalifornia Guideline Child Support Calculator. To understand how to enter the information into the Child Support Calculator, download theUser Guide.
Determine “income” to calculate child support
The court measures child support based on a parent's "net disposable income". This means the parents' income after state and federal taxes and other required deductions. The court may order an allowance based in part on bonuses, commissions, overtime and other fringe or fringe income if the court finds that such income is regular.
Certain income is NOT taken into account when determining the maintenance obligation. For example, the court cannot take into account income from:
- General Support/General Relief, or
- SSI (Supplementary Security Income).
Find out "time share" to calculate child support
The court calculates "time share" (how much time each parent spends with the children) by comparing the time each parent is primarily physically responsible for the child. In general, this means that the court counts the hours or other parts of the day that a parent spends with his or her child.
Typically, child support payments decrease as timeshare increases.
If you default on child support payments, you will have to pay interest on the balance due in addition to the amount owed. Interest charges are added by law and the judge cannot stop them.
- 10 percent per annum for child support due on or after January 1, 1983; or
- 7 percent per annum for child support due before January 1, 1983.
If you owe arrears (overdue child support), your court order or wage assignment (garnishment), if any, may contain an amount in excess of the monthly child support payment. This amount is used to settle your arrears and is often referred to as the "liquidation amount". But even if you pay off your arrears in installments, interest will continue to accrue on your balance.
Failure to pay child support can have serious consequences. If the court finds that someone is able to pay child support but willfully fails to pay it, the court may rule that the person ordered to pay child support is acting "in contempt of court". Contempt of court can be very serious, as it can result in imprisonment. This enforcement tool is generally only used when all others have failed.
Depending on the situation, both parents may wish to change the amount of child support paid. Changes to child support often make sense when one of the parents has experienced a significant change in:
- his or her income,
- The income of the other parent
- The time each parent spends with the child.
Once you ask the court to change the amount of child support, the court will make its decision based on the current circumstances (mainly both parents' income and time sharing with the child). This means that the amount of child benefit can go up as well as down. If you are unsure whether the change in circumstances will result in an increase or decrease, you can askFamily law facultyin your county to help you calculate estimates before filing in court.
For more information, seeAmendment of a child support orderand step-by-step instructions.
IMPORTANT!If you are the child-paying parent, you will continue to owe the full child support amount in your current court order until you change the order – even if your situation has changed. For example, if you lose your job today but change your child support entitlement in 3 months, you will still owe child support from today to 3 months, even if you have not worked. If you owe that amount but cannot pay it, you will owe interest (at the rate of 10 percent per annum) on any unpaid amount.
As a rule, the court-ordered child support ends when the child reaches the age of 18 and graduates from high school. If your 18-year-old child is still a full-time student and still lives with one parent, child support ends when your child graduates or turns 19, whichever comes first.
Child support also ends when the child:
- marries or enters into a civil partnership,
- join the military
- Is emancipated or
Parents can agree to support a child longer. The court can also order that both parents continue to care for a disabled adult child who is unable to care for themselves.
Federal law and California law require that every child support order include a “medical assistance” order. This means that the court will order one or both parents to have the child have health insurance as long as it can be done at “reasonable cost”.
- Federal regulations are in place45 Code of Federal Regulations Section 302.56(3);
- California requirements are in theCalifornia Family Code Sections 3750 through 3752.
You should also know that:
- Health insurance includes vision and dental insurance. SeeCalifornia Family Code Sections 3750 through 3753.
- The reasonableness of the costs is presumed if the costs for adding the children do not exceed 5 percent of the gross income of the parent who is used for health insurance.
- Medical services must be accessible, which means that routine medical care can be provided within 50 miles of where the children live.
- Health insurance benefits are added to the basic maintenance amount.
- The court divides the cost of future uninsured medical expenses between the parents.
- If you are starting or changing a child support order, have information or evidence available for the court about the cost of health insurance, as you are entitled to a deduction from income before child support is applied to that account.
If you believe you cannot afford to pay for your medical assistance order, you can submit two forms to ask the court to change or terminate the order:
- Application and notice of hearing for health insurance allocation(Form FL-478), AND
- Statement of Income and Expenditure(Form FL-150).
DieFamily law facultycan assist you in completing and submitting these forms.
California courts are required to order the amount of child support specified in the Child Support Code, unless the case applies to one of the few statutory exceptions to that rule. One of the exceptions is that the parties agree on a different (higher or lower) amount than the Child Support Directive, provided that it meets certain criteria.
In general, parents can agree to an "out of policy" support amount if they:
- Know their child support rights fully;
- Do you know the guideline amount for child support;
- not be pressured or coerced into agreeing to such child support;
- receive no public support;
- have not applied for social assistance;
- Agree on a level of support that meets the needs of the children;
- Think that the amount of child support is in the children's best interests; and
- Have a judge approve the amount of child support.
Parents can also consent to a child support order based on the policy. By agreeing and signing a written agreement (an agreement) on the target amount, parents do not have to go to a judge to decide on child support. Your agreement must be presented to the court clerk for the judge to sign in order for it to be enforceable as a court order.
IMPORTANT!If one of the parents receives public support (such as TANF), the local childcare agency must agree AND sign the agreement between the parents. The local child support authority must also sign the agreement if the agency is involved in a case to enforce (collect) the support order.
Drafting a child support agreement
Parents can agree to child support, but only the judge can decide if it's reasonable and if he or she accepts it and signs it as an order.
DieFamily law facultyin your county can help both parents draft a child support agreement and draft the agreement.
How to create a maintenance contract:
1. Find out what the guideline amount is for child support
Before the judge can sign an agreement between the parents specifying a lower or higher amount of child support than the policy, you first need to know what the California policy amount of child support would be.
To find out what it would be, you can:
- Ask themFamily law facultyin your county. He or she can do the calculation and tell you what the policy would be.
- You can calculate the amount yourself using theCalifornia Guideline Child Support Calculator. To understand how to enter the information into the Child Support Calculator, download theUser Guide. Calculating child support can be complicated, especially if you've never done it before. If you're doing it yourself, you might want to have a lawyer or thatFamily law facultycheck the calculation.
2. Agree on an amount and other issues
In order to be fully informed about your child support entitlements, you need to know what the guideline amount for child support would be. So if you agree to pay more or receive less than the policy, do so voluntarily and with full information.
You must also agree on who will keep or pay for the children's health insurance and how you will share other expenses related to your child or children, such as:
- childcare costs;
- Medical expenses not covered by insurance (co-payments, etc.);
- special education or other needs of the children (tutoring, extracurricular activities, etc.);
- Travel expenses related to the visit (if any); and
- Any other expenses related to your children.
Child-related expenses are usually split 50:50 or proportionally to each parent's income if there is a large difference between the parents' incomes, but you may agree to any split that you feel is appropriate for your situation.
And you must decide how child support will be paid: directly between the parents, directly to the carrier, or throughgarnishment(assignment of wages).
3. Write down your agreement
Use theProvision Establishing or Changing Child Support and Order(Form FL-350). The form will walk you through all the points you need to address in your agreement, so read it carefully.
Make sure you use the correct case number (if you already have a case open). If you do not have an open case, you must open one in order to submit this Agreement as part of it. Experiencewhat kind of case you should open in your situation.
Note that in this agreement, you agree to notify each other promptly of any change in income, employment, or address.
Ask themFamily law facultyin your district if you need help writing your agreement. Or if you wrote it yourself, you have themFamily law facultyCheck it to make sure you filled it out correctly.
4. Sign yoursdetermination(Agreement)
Each parent must sign the decree (Form FL-350). By signing, you agree that you understand it and that you are signing it voluntarily and will not be pressured or coerced into agreeing. Be sure to include the child support calculation showing what the guideline amount for child support is, even if you agree to a different amount.
If the local child support authority (LCSA) is involved in your case, either because they opened the case or because one of the parents asked them to get involved, they must sign offdetermination. If either of you are on welfare (like TANF), the LCSA must approve the amount of child support.
5. Submit your determination to the court for the judge to sign
Check with the court clerk whether you need to make copies in advance and hand them in with the original, or simply hand in the original and then make copies. Procedures for doing this vary slightly from court to court, so check with your local court clerk to find out what needs to be done and when you should return to collect your papers.
- Each parent must also fill out and submit a formChild Support Case Registration Form(Form FL-191). This form is confidential and will not be kept in the court records. It is kept in a confidential file with the State of California. It registers the case in a national registry to help enforce child support. If any of the information you provide on this form changes, you must fill out a new form and submit it to the court clerk within 10 days of the change. If the LCSA is involved in your case, they will forward the information on the form electronically, and you do not need to fill out Form FL-191.
- If you agree to paying child support through garnishment, file one as wellIncome Withholding for Assistance(Form FL-195). Use theInstructions for completing theOrder/Notice to Withhold Income for Child Support(Form FL-196) for help completing Form FL-195. When completing this form, remember that "obligor" refers to the parent paying child support. "Patron" is the parent receiving child support.
6.Store filedeterminationafter the judge signs it
After the judge signs thatdetermination, file the original with the court clerk (after making copies if you haven't already made them). The clerk will keep the original and will stamp your copies "Submitted" and mail them back to you. One copy is for each parent and the third copy is for the LCSA if applicable.
Put those tooIncome Withholding for Assistance(Form FL-195) if you submitted one. When completing this form, please ensure you only enter the last 4 digits of the social security number of the parent paying child support to protect their privacy.
7.Send theOrder/Notice to Withhold Income for Child Supportto the employer of the dependent parent (obligor)
If you have consented to a garnishment of wages by the debtor (dependant parent), send the fileIncome Withholding for Assistance(Form FL-195) to his employer.
The California Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) is the state agency that sets policies and oversees child care services for the state. The Local Child Support Agency (LCSA), located in each county, is a county agency that provides day-to-day services to the public for preparing and enforcing child support court orders. This online self-help center primarily uses "LCSA" but if you see "DCSS" or "Department of Child Support Services" on this website or on forms you have received, remember they are the same thing.
You can get help from the LCSA:
- Open a new child support case;
- determine parentage (who a child's parents are);
- Find parents so they can pay child support;
- Request medical assistance orders from the court;
- Enforce child support orders; and
- Change child support orders.
The LCS CANNOT help you with:
- setting up spousal or partner support arrangements; or
- Enforcement of spousal or partner support orders not included in child support.
The local youth welfare office is always involved when a parent is receiving social assistance for the child or the child is in a foster family. In cases involving public support, the law says the LCSA will make the final decision on enforcing child support even if thesupervisorcontradicts.
You can get help from the LCSA even if you don't get public support.
Learn more about theChild Care Services Departmentandfind your local childcare agency.
IMPORTANT!The local child benefit agency (LCSA) does not represent the parents or the children. The LCSA attorneys are not your attorneys. You are not a legal customer and the information you provide to the LCSA is not confidential. LCSA attorneys may share certain information about your case with other agencies, the other parent, or the other parent's employer or attorney. The law states that the LCSA will make the final decision on enforcement of child support even if the custodial parent disagrees. Parents have the right to seek advice from a private lawyer or legal aid group at any time. And you can ask themFamily law facultyfor information.
LCSA attorneys may share certain information about your case with other agencies, the other parent, or the other parent's employer or attorney.
The law states that the LCSA will make the final decision on enforcement of child support even if the custodial parent disagrees.
Parents have the right to seek advice from a private lawyer or legal aid group at any time. And you can ask themFamily law facultyfor information.
Die CaliforniaChild Support Services-Websitehas information on many topics including:
- How to Find a Parent;
- How is parentage determined (paternity);
- How to Obtain, Change and Enforce a Child Support Order;
- How to Obtain and Enforce a Medical Assistance Order; and
- How to collect child support payments.
Enforcement of child support abroad
Posted by the US Department of State.
Child Support Publicationsfrom the California Department of Child Support on parentage and child support determination, incarcerated parents, wage allocations and other child support issues. Available in multiple languages.
LawHelpCalifornia: Child support
Links to information on child support for incarcerated parents, enforcing child support abroad, child support forms and more. (Select your state or enter your zip code for information specific to your area.)
Local Kinderbetreuungsagentur (LCSA)
The LCSA in your county can help you get child support even if you don't receive public assistance. It can help you increase or decrease child support and enforce a child support order. The LCSA cannot assist with custody, visitation, or divorce.
Find out about the stateParentageOpportunity Program (POP) des Department of Child Support Services.
If you have an open case with your local child care authority and are not satisfied with the support you are receiving from them, the Ombudsperson and Grievance Resolution programs may be of help to you.
readHow to solve problems with your child support case. And find out more about the ombudsperson andGrievance Resolution and Government Hearing Program.
Facilitators for Family Law at the Supreme Court
Locate the Family Law Facilitator in your county.
families change: Online guide for families going through separation and divorce. It has 3 versions - one forparents, one forKinder, and one forTeens und Pre-Teens. The guides provide information on how to deal with changes, feelings and emotions during a divorce or separation, the law in such cases, resources for the family and help in the development of a child support agreement between parents.
Sacramento County Public Law Library
This page contains a list of books on family law and other legal subjects.