Families Change Guide to Separation & Divorce

4.2 - Child Support

4.2 - Child Support

This section is dedicated to answering a number of questions about child support. If you do not have children together, you may skip and learn about spousal or partner support.

As parents, decisions will need to be made about schedules and child support. While all the other long-term details of the separation or divorce get worked out, children still need a regular routine, which meets their basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, safety, and education.  

In this section, I am going to ask the most common questions, to help you learn more about this important topic.

To start, the first question is: What is child support?

Child support is money paid to contribute to the expenses associated with caring for your children.

Under California law, children have the legal right to receive financial support from both of their parents. This is true even though parents are separated or divorced. The principle idea is that children should continue to benefit from the financial support of both parents, just like they would if the parents were still together.

Who pays to support the children?

Each parent is responsible for providing for the financial needs of the children according to his or her ability. However, the court cannot enforce the parents’ obligation until it makes an order for child support. This means that a parent must ask the court to make an order for child support as part of the case that was filed in family court.

Either parent can ask the court to make a child support order as part of a case for:

  • Divorce, legal separation, or annulment
  • A petition to establish a parental relationship
  • A domestic violence restraining order; or
  • A petition for custody and support

In some cases, the court will first have to decide the parentage of the child. This is necessary, for example, if the parents were not married when the child was conceived, or if the parents did not sign a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage form after the birth of the child.  

What expenses does child support cover?

Child support payments cover a wide scope of common day-to-day expenses associated with raising children: the child’s share of the rent and utilities, groceries, clothing, and activities.

The base amount of support does not generally include certain other kinds of expenses, such as daycare, tutoring, medical and dental expenses.

In addition to the base amount of child support, a paying parent may also be required to cover a portion of these other “extraordinary” expenses.

The additional amount that is required to pay for these additional expenses is based on the capacity of the parent to pay.

How is child support calculated?

California uses a statewide formula (called a "guideline") for figuring out how much child support should be paid and which parent should pay that amount to the other parent.

The judge will decide the child support amount based on the guideline calculation. The guideline amount is presumed to be correct, and the judge can only make an order different from the guideline amount in very limited situations.

Parents can also use a guideline child support calculator to help reach an agreement about child support or estimate how a judge may order support.  

If the local child support agency is involved in the case, parents or their attorneys, and the court must use the Department of Child Support Services' California Guideline Child Support Calculator software program to prepare the support calculations. The child support calculator is available for free on the DCSS website at www.childsup.ca.gov. The website also has a User’s Guide to help parents understand how to fill in the information needed to complete the calculation.

If the LCSA is not involved in the case, parents or their attorneys can still use the DCSS child support calculator. But they may also use other certified software programs that are available for a fee.

To use the support calculator, parents need to provide information about:

  • How much money each earns or can earn;
  • How much other income each receives;
  • How many children they have together;
  • How much time each  spends with their children;
  • Support received of children from other relationships;
  • And other information, like
  • Each parent’s actual tax filing status, mandatory expenses, and contributions.

As additional child support, parents need to consider how to share other expenses such as:

  • Child care to allow the parent to work or to get training or schooling for work skills;
  • Children’s reasonable health-care expenses;
  • Traveling for visitation from one parent to another;
  • Children’s educational needs; and
  • Other special needs that the children may have.

Parents have the right to get advice from a private lawyer or legal aid group at any time. And they can ask the family law facilitator or self-help center for information.

The family law facilitator and the Self-Help Center are located in your county’s family law court. They provide information, court forms, and assist to complete the forms for free.  

The local child support agency (LCSA) in your county can help you get, change, and collect child support at no charge.  The LCSA is where you can get help to:

  • Open a new child support case;
  • Establish parentage;
  • Find parents so they can pay child support;
  • Request medical support orders;
  • Enforce child support orders; and
  • Modify child support orders.

IMPORTANT! The local child support agency (LCSA) does not represent the parents or the children. The LCSA lawyers are not your lawyers. You are not a legal client, and the information you give the LCSA is not confidential.

We have now answered the most common questions about child support. Of course, there are still more questions that need to be answered. For now, it might be  worthwhile for you to stop for a bit and take a look at the online tool for calculating child support.. The calculator is found online at http://www.childsup.ca.gov/