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Understanding Child Support Basics

Fundamentals of Child Support

Child support basics

Parents’ Duty

Generally, both parents of a minor child have a duty to support that child until the child attains age eighteen or graduates high school. Child support is straightforward where a child resides with both parents and both parents provide for the child.
However, when parents divorce or separate, child support gets more complicated. The parent who has primary physical responsibility for the child is deemed to be providing the amount of support directly to the child. For the time that a parent does not have primary physical custody, he or she must help the other parent financially and therefore, owes the other parent child support. The amounts owed by each parent are offset against one another to compute one single payment payable by one parent to the other. In an equal custody split, the high earner will often need to pay the other parent.
To calculate the amount one parent must pay the other, California courts use an algebraic formula based on the amount of the parents’ gross income and custodial timeshare. The parents’ disposable income, number of children and the percentage of time each child spends with each parent are also considered in the formula.
Dissomaster and SupportTax are computer programs designed to help attorneys and judges compute guideline child support based on the formula, and are widely recognized by California courts. The guideline amount computed using the software is presumed to be correct. It does not have to be the final amount, though. If the guideline amount is unfair or inappropriate, the
child support basics

Child Support Rights

court, after analyzing admissible evidence and weighing the factors in Family Code Section 4057, can adjust the guideline amount. Additionally, the parents can stipulate, or agree, to an amount above or below guideline child support. When the amount is below guideline, the parents must declare that “they are fully informed of their rights concerning child support; the order is being agreed to without coercion or duress; the agreement is in the best interests of the children involved; the needs of the children will be adequately met by the stipulated amount; and the right to support has not been assigned to the county under Welfare & Institutions Code §11477 and no public assistance application is pending.” California Family Code Section 4065
If the other parent receives public aid, the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) must periodically review the child support payments, and, if necessary, recalculate the child support amount, based on the wages of the parent who is not receiving aid and the custodial timeshare. While parents generally may agree to a child support amount other than guideline, where one parent receives public aid, the parents do not have the option to agree to their own child support amount.

For further assistance in analyzing and applying California law to the basics of child support, please call family law attorney Paula S. Hall at:

Sonoma County Law Offices of James F. DeMartini


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