The days are long past when the U.S. courts considered one parent more important than the other when it comes to raising children. Today’s family courts recognize the rights and obligations of both parents equally. In California, a father and mother both have equal ground when it comes to matters of child custody and support. Just as the courts recognize fathers as equal parenting partners, they also recognize mothers as equal partners when it comes to financially supporting their children.
In California, a father has just as much a right to receive child support as a mother. The basis used to determine child support payer and recipient doesn’t consider sex. In fact, the law prohibits judges from considering sex at all in matters of child custody and support. Instead, it works on a complex calculation based on the amount of money each parent earns, their expenses, and the amount of parenting time and responsibility they have with their children.
How do Courts Calculate Child Support in California?
California has a statewide formula for calculating child support. Parents may even avoid the court completely in two ways. First, by agreeing on child support terms on their own and filing an order through their local county child support agency, in which case a judge will simply sign off on the order if it’s reasonable and in the children’s best interest. Second, by filing through their local office to obtain a child support order. In many cases, the county agency can assist parents through the process and file the documents so parents never have to see a judge.
In cases where parents are contentious, can’t agree on an amount, or argue about which parent should pay, the matter will end up as the decision of an impartial judge. The formula used to calculate child support and to determine which parent pays works with the following information about income and expenses:
- How much income each parent earns through wages, salary, commission, bonuses, rental property income, private business income, and other forms of income such as unemployment and worker’s compensation.
- The number of children the parents have together
- How much parenting time each parent spends with their children and which parent bears the most daily responsibility
- Health insurance premiums and which parent provides coverage for the children
- Childcare costs
- Education costs
- Healthcare costs beyond the insurance coverage
Once all of the relevant information is entered into a complex computer program, the results are fair, equitable, and impartial to the sex of each parent. Typically, the higher earner will have to pay child support to the lower earner, but not always. This can vary depending on which parent has the most responsibility and parenting time.
Do Judges Have to Follow the Calculated Amount in Their Child Support Orders?
In most cases, judges and child support agencies trust the formula used to fairly and impartially calculate child support but in rare instances, they may deviate from the calculated amount. For example, if one parent earns a very high income, the amount may be adjusted downward if it’s far above and beyond what’s needed to comfortably provide care for the children. In other cases, a judge may adjust the amount upward if a child has special medical or educational needs.
Addressing Other Common Child Support Myths
Besides the myth that only mothers receive child support, there are other commonly held misunderstandings about child support including the following:
- A non-biological father won’t have to pay child support. This is an untrue myth. If a child is born or adopted into a family during a marriage, the husband is the legal father and bears the legal obligation to care for the child.
- Child support payments can’t be adjusted. This is also untrue. When either parent’s financial circumstances change significantly, they can file for a child support modification and show proof of the change in circumstances and how it impacts their ability to pay.
- A person can file bankruptcy to get out of paying child support. This isn’t true. Unlike consumer debt, back child support owed doesn’t disappear with bankruptcy.
- The child support order automatically ends when a child turns 18. This isn’t always the case. Child support typically ends when the youngest child turns 18, marries, or joins the military. However, in California, a child support payer may continue to owe support until age 19 if a child is still a high school student.