It’s a common misconception that parents who share the custody of their children in California equally, on a 50/50 parenting schedule don’t have to pay or receive child support. However, that isn’t the case. While on the surface it might seem logical that neither parent should pay the other if they both have the children in their care for the same amount of time, it’s important to realize that divorce turns one household into two, changing the way combined income is distributed within the family to pay for the necessities required for the care of children. Child support orders are meant to ensure that children of divorced parents enjoy the same quality of life they had before the divorce as much as possible, only now the parents’ combined incomes must support two separate households.
How Do California Courts Determine Child Support in 50/50 Custody Situations?
Family law in California is based on the belief that a child’s well-being is the top priority. All decisions should be made in the children’s best interests. Part of this is the acknowledgment that children fare better with close, loving relationships with both parents. California courts now aim toward shared physical and legal custody of children 50/50 whenever possible so children split their time between parents evenly. While in other scenarios, the parent with the lesser amount of time and responsibility toward the children pays the parent with greater parenting time, this obviously isn’t the case in 50/50 custody situations.
In California, a complex mathematical formula based on all of the information in both parents’ financial situations determines which parent pays support and how much they pay. In this formula, the following data determine the support amount:
- The combined total monthly income of both parents
- The net income of the higher-earning parent
- The number of hours the higher-earning parent has custody
- Both parents’ disposable net monthly income combined
The formula delivers an amount that’s 15% of the total difference between what one parent earns compared to the other and this is the amount of support the higher-earning parent owes to the lower-earner.
In some cases, there will be no need for child support in 50/50 custody situations. This occurs only when both parents have identical incomes, therefore there is no difference between incomes and the formula does not support the need for calculating 15% of the difference.
Do Judges Have to Order the Exact Amount Determined by California’s Child Support Formula?
In most cases, the highly specialized formula works beautifully to determine the amount of child support paid to the parent that would most benefit from the amount in their duty to care for the children. However, a judge does have the final determination and may adjust the amount up or down in certain circumstances; for instance, if one parent earns an extravagant amount of income and the formula determines an amount that’s much larger than the other parent needs to comfortably care for the children, the judge may reduce the amount. In situations where a child has expensive medical needs, a judge might adjust the amount upward.