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How Is Child Support Calculated in California?

Questions of child support among divorcing couples can be both complicated and taxing. California has set a minimum child support guideline to make sure the distribution of money between parents is fair. This amount comes from an equation determined by set factors. The purpose of the guideline is for children to receive the correct amount of support and to establish a uniform standard across California child support cases.

The guideline statute for child support works on several underlying principles. Beyond the fact that both parents are mutually responsible for their children and, as such, should provide children with appropriate levels of support, all courts are to follow the child support guidelines with very few exceptions. Child support orders ensure children receive timely, fair, and sufficient support.

Factors of the Guideline

Courts use several factors to determine the amount of child support. These include:

  • The gross incomes of each parent
  • Tax deductions that they parents may claim
  • Childcare costs
  • How much time each child spends with each parent
  • Mandatory payroll deductions of each parent
  • The number of children

When put into the child support calculation formula, these factors generate the financial value of the child support.

Child Support Formula

The California child support formula is K (HN – (H%) (TN)) = CS, which translates as:

  • K stands for the combined total of each parent’s income that will go into child support.
  • HN is the high net, referring to the monthly disposable income of the parent who earns more.
  • H% stands for the approximate percentage of time that the higher earning parent will have primary responsibility for the children. If both parents have equal time with the children, this amount would be 50%. When parents have multiple children with different time-sharing arrangements, H% is the average of the approximate time the higher earning parent has with each child.
  • TN is the combined disposable income of both parents.
  • CS stands for the child support amount.

The result of this formula means the higher income parent will pay the difference between the total childcare costs and the approximate amount of care they will provide while the child is in their custody. The larger the gap between the two parent’s incomes, the more the higher earning parent will pay in support.

Because the formula for this amount is complicated, California has an online child support calculator that parents can use to input all relevant factors and determine a rough estimate of support.

Exceptions to the Formula

The principles of California’s child support guidelines determine that the amount of support from calculations is correct. Judges can only deviate from the formula in specific circumstances, such as:

  • The parent paying child support has an income high enough that the calculated support amount far exceeds the needs of the children
  • Parents are not contributing to the needs of the children equivalent to custodial time
  • Children spend equal amounts of time with parents and there is a discrepancy in the housing expenses between parents
  • The children have special medical needs that require greater support than the formula calculates

In addition to these exceptions, judges can also order child support add-ons. These can relate to expenses for employment, healthcare, educational, and visitation travel needs. Parents will share the expenses for add-ons equally. Any spousal support amounts may also affect the allocation of add-on amounts.

The California child support guidelines ensure all parents receive appropriate support relative to their incomes and time spent with the children. While the formula can be complex, it sets a standard so that all children can continue to grow, even when their parents separate.