Precisely what do child support laws require in the state of California? It’s a simple question, but it’s a question with a complicated answer. What you read here will be a general overview and discussion of child support in California, but if you are involved or become involved in an actual dispute over child support, you’ll need specific legal advice from an experienced Fresno family law attorney regarding your particular circumstances.

Here’s a summary of what California law says regarding child support. The law says that a parent’s first and most imperative obligation is to support his or her child. That obligation falls on all parents and is based on ability, the parent’s income, and must be consistent with the child’s best interests. A child should share the standard of living that both parents enjoy. California law presumes that after a divorce, the parent who has physical custody of the child already contributes his or her share of the child’s support.

In any California case that involves a child, the state puts the child’s best interests above all other considerations. The state’s child support guidelines are designed to reduce conflict between divorced parents and reduce the need for litigation. California child support statutes also directly connect parenting time (called “visitation”) and child support by presuming that the parent who spends more time with the child will have the greater need to obtain child support.

FOR HOW LONG MUST CHILD SUPPORT BE PAID?

Child support in California usually terminates when a child becomes 18 years old unless the 18-year-old is still a full-time high school student living with a parent. In that circumstance, the child support ends when the child becomes 19 or graduates from high school, whichever comes first. Child support also terminates if a child joins the military, marries, or becomes emancipated. Parents are free to provide voluntary additional or extended child support beyond the state’s requirements.

The actual amount of child support that the non-custodial parent will pay to the custodial parent is determined by the state’s codified guidelines and by a computer program that calculates the variables. The court is not necessarily bound to order child support in the same amount as the computer program’s calculation, but there must be an appropriate legal reason to order a different amount. Either parent can challenge the amount of child support ordered if there’s evidence that incorrect data was included in the calculations. Divorced parents are also free to mutually agree on a different child support amount with the court’s permission.

California child support calculations involve a variety of factors, although the most important factors are the number of children who must be supported, the amount of parenting time each parent has with the child or children, and the amount of each parent’s disposable income. These are not the only factors considered in child support deliberations, but merely those considered the most important by California courts.

WHAT EXPENSES CAN BE INCLUDED IN A CHILD SUPPORT ORDER?

California child support laws require health insurance coverage for children, so every child support order will require one or both parents to provide the child or children with health insurance – including dental and vision coverage – provided the insurance is available for a reasonable price. Group health insurance policies through one parent’s employer are considered reasonable. So are plans that do not cost more than five percent of the parent’s gross income. Reasonable medical, dental, and vision-related expenses that are uninsured are typically ordered to be divided 50/50. Not paying these costs is the legal equivalent of not paying child support.

California law additionally states that child care related to employment – or related to reasonably necessary training or education for employment skills – must be added to child support. This amount is also usually divided 50/50 although a court may order a different arrangement. The court may also order support for tuition and for other costs associated with a private school, but that decision is entirely within the court’s discretion. A parent seeking such support has a better chance of prevailing if the child has already been attending a private school.

Additional support for children with special needs who require private or special schooling is almost always approved by California courts. And under the state’s child support laws, the courts also have the discretion to order payment for extracurricular activities, but once again, a parent seeking such support has a better chance of prevailing if the child has already been participating in the extracurricular activities.

WHAT IS THE PROCEDURE FOR REQUESTING CHILD SUPPORT?

A request for child support should begin with the help of an experienced family law lawyer near you. The reasons for the child support request must be clearly articulated, and the request must include an income and expense declaration. If the declaration is inaccurate or incomplete, the child support request could be delayed or even denied. The most frequent mistake is the failure to include income verification documents such as copies of tax returns and pay stubs. Failing to state expenses completely and accurately is also common. A family law attorney can see to it that your child support request is accurate and complete.

When a request for child support is submitted, it then must be “served” on the other parent, who has (in most cases) nine court days (that is, weekdays that are not legal holidays) to respond. Thus, any parent who is served with a child support request must act at once to hire an experienced California family law attorney who will prepare a response and appear with the parent at the hearing. The court reviews each parent’s paperwork, listens to testimony from both sides, and then renders a child support decision.

Child support can conceivably last for as long as eighteen years, but California courts understand that a family’s circumstances can change over time. When the modification of a child support order is needed, have a family law attorney help you obtain that modification. Circumstances that might call for the modification of a child support order include but are not limited to unemployment or a change of employment; a new child with another partner; an injury, illness, or disability; or a relocation to another jurisdiction, state, or nation.