Our children are the most important part of our lives. There’s nothing we won’t do for them. Divorce is an all-too-frequent occurrence, but that doesn’t mean we stop caring for our kids. And it certainly doesn’t mean we stop providing for their care. After a marriage ends, this most often takes the form of child support.
What is Child Support?
These payments provide for the ongoing care and support of our children. While ensuring financial stability is one of our parental obligations, child support still constitutes one of the biggest post-divorce expenses. It can be tough and there’s a lot to consider.
It’s important to know what to pay, where the money goes, and that it’s doing its job. You likely have a number of reservations and questions. With that in mind, we have answers to a few common child support questions.
1. What Does it Cover?
Child support covers all the regular daily expenses of raising a child. This includes the basic necessities, like a safe, secure place to live, access to food, medical care, clothing, and even things like educational needs and child care.
If it’s a steady part of caring for your kids, child support encompasses it.
What child support doesn’t cover are the wants. Extras may factor into the amount, but for the most part, the child support formula only accounts for necessities.
2. Who Gets Child Support?
After divorcing in California, the primary parent, the one with the most overnights and who spends the most time with the child, generally receives child support.
In most cases, these payments continue until the child hits 18 and graduates high school. Though there are certain circumstances where it may last longer. Your divorce decree and parenting plan should detail all of the specifics.
3. How Do Courts Determine Child Support?
The court considers many factors when determining the amount of child support. Common components include the custody arrangement, the child’s needs, and the income and financial standing of both parents.
The court takes all income into account:
- In addition to wages, tips and bonuses
- they also consider unemployment and disability benefits,
- self employment,
- Social Security/pensions,
- rental income,
- and even prize winnings.
- They also take taxes,
- tax deductions,
- union dues,
- mandatory retirement contributions
- and funds owed to any other dependents.
California follows a rigid formula to establish child support. The equation plugs in all of the variables and determines the amount.
4. What Counts as Income?
Income forms a key piece of the child support formula, so it’s important to know what constitutes income. The courts look at your gross income, not your take-home pay.
This number represents what you earn before any deductions and taxes. It also includes bonuses or commissions. Other factors, like taxes, health insurance, public assistance, and more also impact the formula. But as far as income, that’s what counts.
5. Does A New Spouse’s Income Count?
People often remarry, start new families, and establish new households after divorce. One common child support question is whether or not a new spouse’s income impacts your payments?
In general, the answer is no. Only your income and your ex’s income factor into the equation. That said, in certain circumstances, the court can consider the overall financial situation in a home. This may also include a new spouse or partner’s paycheck.
6. Can I Modify Child Support?
As said, child support often represents one the biggest continuing expenses you face after divorce. It’s not cheap. And though we all want to provide for our kids, sometimes these obligations are a financial hardship for the payer. While it is possible to modify child support, it’s hard.
Like most court orders, once in place, it’s difficult to alter. You must demonstrate a significant change in financial standing, and even that often isn’t enough. The best way to handle it is to make sure you don’t pay too much up front.
Don’t agree to anything for the sake of convenience. Look at the number and make sure it’s right, and that you can afford it, before you sign anything. Maybe have an attorney examine the math to make sure you didn’t miss any potential deductions.
7. When Does Child Support End?
In most cases, child support ends when the child turns 18. Unless he or she is still a full-time high school student and lives at home. Then child support generally terminates at 19 or upon graduation, whichever happens first. It also ends if the child marries, joins the military, or becomes emancipated. Parents can agree to continue support for longer if they like, though that’s rare. Also rare, in cases of special needs, where a child requires ongoing care or resources, the custodial parent may request additional child support beyond 18. In either case, however, California law doesn’t require it. This is something parents have to work out on their own.
This list isn’t exhaustive by any means. Child support in California is complicated and accounts for many factors. These are just a few frequently asked questions in this realm. As with most family law matters, it’s probably in your best interests to consult an attorney. It may save you in the end.
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