Child Support in California

Child Support Laws in California

Child support is a periodic payment by a parent for the upkeep of their child after a divorce in California. It was initially mandated by federal law in 1975, under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act. In line with the provisions of this Act, the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) was established as the sole agency responsible for enforcing the state's child support program. Nevertheless, the CDSS permitted county district attorney offices to manage the program's operations. A 1988 amendment of Title IV-D of the Social Security Act strengthened the child support program and required the withholding of child support payments from a non-custodial parent's wages. The amendment also required states to implement automated child support systems.

California's child support program faced criticism by the public for poor performance and automation lapses. Consequently, the California Legislature made significant reforms to the funding, administration, and organization of the state's child support program in 1999, leading to:

  • The creation of the California Child Support Services (CSS) and the transfer of the state's responsibility for the child support program to it
  • The transfer of local responsibility for the child support program from the district attorney's offices to local child support agencies
  • The creation of a fair hearing and complaint resolution process to handle child support complaints

California's current child support laws are contained in Division 9 of the California Family Code. Per the provisions of Section 3900 of the California Family Code, both parents of a minor child have equal responsibilities in supporting their child. A court may order a non-custodial parent to pay child support to a custodial parent after a divorce. According to Section 3586 of the California Family Code, both parents may reach an agreement to combine spousal support with child support payments. In that case, the court is not required to issue a separate order for child support.

How Does Child Support Work in California?

In California, no parent is legally obligated to pay child support until there is a court order. A custodial parent or guardian may file an expedited support order with a court to impose child support payment on a non-custodial parent. According to the provisions of Section 3621 of the California Family Code, after a child support order is filed in court, the court can order a non-custodial parent to pay child support without a hearing. Nevertheless, a custodial parent or a legal guardian can open a child support case with the California Child Support Services. Child support is usually calculated based on both parents’ net income. The parent mandated to pay child support may do so directly by mailing checks to the other party or sending money to a local child support agency.

What is the Average Child Support Payment in California?

There is no specific figure for child support payment in California because the amount depends on the parent's income. According to Section 4059 of the California Family Code, child support is taken from the parent's annual gross income after deducting their:

  • Federal and state income tax liabilities
  • Employee contribution or self-employed worker's contribution used to secure their retirement or disability benefit, as provided in the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA)
  • Mandatory union dues required as a condition for employment
  • Health insurance or health plan premiums
  • Existing child or spousal support obligations
  • Job-related expenditures
  • Deduction for hardship as provided between Sections 4070 and 4073 of the California Family Code

The formula for calculating child support is defined in Section 4055 of the California Family Code. According to this statute, the child support amount (CS) is calculated using the formula: CS = K[HN - (H%)(TN)]. In this formula:

  • K signifies the amount of both parents' earnings to be allocated for child support
  • HN indicates the higher-earning parent's disposable income
  • TN signifies the total of both parents' net monthly disposable income
  • H% represents the amount of time (in percentage) when the higher-earning parent will have primary physical responsibility for the child compared with the other parent

California residents can use the California Child Support Services calculator to compute their child support payments.

How to Avoid Child Support in California

The provisions of the California Family Code make it mandatory for parents to pay child support until a child reaches 18 years. A parent can avoid child support payments in California by proving in court that their child no longer requires their financial support. Also, if a non-custodial parent reaches an agreement with the custodial parent to allow the child to live with them or allows another adult to adopt their child, they may legally avoid child support.

How to Get Child Support Arrears Dismissed in California

When a court imposes child support, the non-custodial parent (obligor) is required to pay the imposed amount in full. If an obligor defaults in their payment, they could accumulate child support arrears. Child support arrears is the difference between the court-ordered payment and the amount already paid to a custodial parent. In California, a parent may have their child support arrears reduced through the California Child Support Services (CSS)'s Debt Reduction Program.

How to Choose a Child Support Lawyer in California

A parent considering opening a child support case could benefit from legal assistance from a private attorney, family law facilitator, or legal clinic. When choosing a child support lawyer in California, it is advisable to consider the cost and the kinds of services the lawyer can offer. California counties have family law facilitators that can help parents handle child support cases free of charge. They are neutral parties that can provide general information to clients and are not subject to attorney-client confidentiality. Therefore, a private attorney or a legal clinic would be preferable if a person requires personalized services or wants to share confidential information. Legal clinics typically cost less than private attorneys. A person can find a lawyer through the State Bar of California website.

What Happens if You Don't Pay Child Support in California?

As stipulated in Section 4000 of the California Family Code, if a non-custodial parent is delinquent in their child support payment, legal action could be brought against them. This can be done by the custodial parent or the child's court-appointed guardian. Per Section 4001 of the California Family Code, a court may order a defaulting parent to pay child support. If a court decides that a parent can pay child support but deliberately refuses to pay it, the defaulting parent could be found in contempt of the court and face jail time. Nevertheless, this enforcement method is usually a last resort when others, like wage garnishment, have failed.

When Does Child Support End in California?

According to the provisions of Section 3901 of the California Family Code, a parent ordered to pay child support by a court must continue until the child turns 18 years old. Nevertheless, if a child is a full-time high school student at 18 years and resides with a parent, court-ordered child support ends when they turn 19 or graduate high school, whichever comes first. Child support also ends if a child gets married, joins the military, dies, or is emancipated. However, per the provisions of Section 3901(b) of the California Family Code, parents may agree to pay child support after their child turns 19 years. Also, a court may order a parent to provide additional support for an adult child who is disabled and unable to support themselves.

How to Stop Child Support in California

To stop child support in California, a parent should complete a Form FL-300 (Request for Order Form) and file it with their County Court Clerk to schedule a court hearing date. The FL-300 information sheet provides information on how to complete the Form FL-300 and the additional required documents.