Following a divorce, when children factor in, child support becomes one of the biggest ongoing expenses parents face. These court-ordered payments provide for the continued care and maintenance of your children.
In California, the child support formula takes into account a wide array of financial factors. This calculation considers things like:
- the income of each parent,
- the amount of time each parent spends with the child(ren) in question,
- potential tax deductions,
- level of need, and more.
California state law requires the court to follow these guidelines in order to provide uniformity from case to case.
How Is Child Support Determined?
According to the California Department of Child Support Services:
Child support is determined using guidelines established by California law and is based on many factors, including each parent’s ability to financially provide for the children.
The law requires each parent to complete an Income and Expense Declaration and provide proof of the amount of income.
In deciding the amount of child support, the court will consider income from all sources, whether or not it is reported or taxed under federal law. The income can be in the form of money, property or services.
Incredibly simplified, child support is factored based on the net disposable income of the parents and the amount of time each parent acts as the primary caregiver.
Please note: Welfare payments and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are not included as income.
Related Reading: How Are Assets Split In A Divorce In California?
What Is The Child Support Formula?
In California, there is an actual mathematical child support formula. It looks remarkably similar to a problem from high school algebra:
CS = K [HN – (H%) (TN)]
Here’s What Each Piece Means:
- CS: the child support amount. Just like back in the day, this is the ultimate sum we’re trying to figure out. Think of it as “X equals” if that helps, and X, in this case, represents the payment amount.
- K: the total of both parents’ income. Child support comes out of this total. Income includes monthly salary before taxes and money from other sources like bonuses or commissions. This also accounts for how much the parents earn and the amount of time the highest earner spends with the kids.
- HN: high net, which is the total disposable income for the higher-earning parent.
- H%: represents the percentage of time the higher-earning parent spends as the primary guardian responsible for the child. This depends on the parenting plan, custody arrangement, and visitation. For example, if this parent has the kids 25% of the time, H% equals 25.
- TN: the combined net monthly total of disposable income between the two parents.
While the child support formula looks complicated, and it is, this all serves to nail down the specific amount.
In a general sense, the larger the income gap between the two parents and the less time the higher-earning parent is responsible for the kids, the more child support that parent owes.
- If the child’s mother is the primary caregiver 20 percent of the time and the father is the primary caregiver 80 percent of the time, then the mother could be responsible for a larger payment to the child’s father.
- If the mother earns $60,000 a year and the father earns $40,000 a year it is possible the mother will be responsible for bearing a greater percentage of the cost of raising the child.
Related Reading: An In-Depth Look At Types Of Child Custody
Calculate Your Own Responsibility
To start your journey through the child support formula, you need a variety of information about income, taxes, and finances.
- You need your most recent tax returns, paycheck stubs, and tax forms, like W-2s or 1099s.
- any paperwork that documents disability or unemployment benefits,
- health insurance premiums,
- child care costs,
- mandatory fees like union dues or retirement contributions,
- job-related expenses.
- If you have child support payments for other children,
- spousal support payments, or similar costs, collect those.
In addition to your personal information, you also need to enter the same data for the child’s other parent.
It may help to familiarize yourself with the child support formula ahead of time. That way you know what to collect and have ready when you plug in the numbers.
Custody and child support are critical topics in divorce and family law. Every case and set of circumstances is different and it is imperative that you get accurate information regarding your situation.
Related Reading: Can You Modify Your Child Support Payments?