Our children are the most important part of our lives and we’ll do anything 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. As a result, you probably have a slew of child support questions.
Common Child Support Questions
It’s important to know what to pay, where the money goes, and that it’s doing its job. This often presents a confusing proposition. With that in mind, we have answers to a few of the most common child support questions we hear.
1. 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 you have a lot to consider.
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2. What Do Payments 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.
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3. Who Gets Child Support?
This is one of the most common child support questions we get. 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 or graduates high school, whichever happens later. There are, however, certain circumstances where it lasts longer. Your divorce decree and parenting plan should detail all of the specifics. More on that later.
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4. 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.
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. Please note: Welfare payments and Supplemental Security Income SSI are not included as income.”
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5. What Counts as Income?
Income forms a key part of the child support formula, so it’s important to know what makes up this piece of the pie. The courts look at your gross income, not your take-home pay.
What the court considers income includes:
- Wages, tips, and bonuses.
- Unemployment and disability benefits.
- Bonuses or commissions.
- Public assistance.
- Social Security/pensions.
- Rental income.
- Prize winnings.
They also account for:
- Tax deductions.
- Union dues.
- Mandatory retirement contributions.
- 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. Note: This is not an official amount, but should give you an idea of what to expect.
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6. 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 of a home. This may also include a new spouse or partner’s paycheck.
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7. Can I Modify Child Support?
As said, child support often represents one of 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 upfront.
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.
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8. When Does Child Support End?
As we said, 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.
Child support generally terminates at 18 or upon graduation, whichever happens later. 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. This most commonly happens in cases where parents decide to help pay for post-secondary education, like college.
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 money, time, and headaches in the end.
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