You may be interested in finding out how to compute the amount of child support you might owe or that you may receive. Unless you and your spouse agree on the amount, child support in California is determined by state guidelines that provide a mathematical formula for the judge to use in calculating support.
At first blush, the calculations may seem complicated. However, the California Judicial Council has approved child support calculation software such as Dissomaster that will crunch the numbers. Even though the software does the math, it is critical to put the right numbers into the formula to get the right result. Please contact our office for a consultation as to guideline child support in your unique case.
The following is a brief overview of how California child support is calculated and the factors the court takes into consideration when determining income for guideline child support.
Responsibility for child support
In California, both parents share equal responsibility for supporting their child. Under Family Code § 3901 that obligation continues until a child who isn’t self-supporting stops attending high school full-time or turns 19, whichever occurs first.
The California child support guidelines take into account a number of factors. Two of the most important are the relative incomes of both parents and the “time share” each parent has with the child. “Time share” is the percentage of time that a parent has primary physical responsibility for the child, or, in other words, the percentage of time that the child spends living at each parent’s residence.
California statutes spell out what types of income courts are to consider in determining guideline child support. According to Family Code § 4058, income includes: salaries, commissions, wages, bonuses, royalties, rents, dividends, interest, workers’ compensation benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, spousal support from another case, Social Security disability benefits, trust income, pension income, and income from annuities.
Courts may adjust a child support order to accommodate a parent’s seasonal or fluctuating income. Family Code § 4064.
The courts have ruled on whether certain items, not explicitly mentioned by statute, are to be counted as income for guideline child support. Some common questions are addressed in the following cases. Case law is subject to change at any time so thorough legal research by a legal professional must be done rather than rely on the below summaries.
Included in income:
- Deferred salary should be included in calculating child support. Berger.
- The income value of rent-free housing and a meal allowance is included in the child support calculation. Stewart. In this case, a disabled parent who was receiving free housing on an Indian reservation was treated as having income to pay child support.
- Income includes a rent subsidy and free car to the extent they are employee benefits. Schulze.
- Gifts may be included as income available for child support calculations. Alter. In this case, a mother provided recurring gifts to her son to pay expenses. These gifts could be included as income for calculating child support.
- Unexercised stock options are income. Kerr; Cheriton.
Not included in income:
- A one-time inheritance is generally not counted as income, but debt reduction and standard of living as a consequence of the inheritance are considered. Castle.
- An unallocated lump sum personal injury recovery is not income, but the court has discretion to do a partial allocation based on sufficient supporting evidence. Heiner.
- The unrealized value of stock shares is not income. Pearlstein.
- Student loans are not income. Rocha.
Deviating from guideline child support
The court has the discretion to order child support that varies from the guidelines if a child’s needs or the resources or situation of a parent are exceptional (for example, the child has health or educational issues or the parent is a high-earner). In awarding child support, the court may consider a parent’s earning capacity, rather than the parent’s income, if that would be consistent with the child’s best interest. Family Code §4058(b).
Child support add-ons
The court can add on to child support such items as child care costs, reasonable uninsured health care costs, educational needs, and travel expenses. Family Code §4062.
Contact Ventura County divorce attorney, Lisa R. Zonder
This information is not intended as specific advice for any particular case. If you need further information and would like to speak with a relatable and accessible divorce attorney, please call.