Families Change Guide to Separation & Divorce

4.3 - More Child Support Questions

4.3 - More Child Support Questions

Now it’s time to answer more of the common questions parents ask about child support. Let’s start with this one: How does the court figure out the parent’s income to calculate child support?

The court bases child support on a parent’s "net disposable income." This means the parent’s income after state and federal taxes and other required deductions. The court may order support based in part on bonuses, commissions, overtime, and other supplemental or non-wage income if the court determines that this income occurs regularly.

Certain income is NOT counted when determining a child support obligation. For example, the court cannot consider income from certain public benefits, such as:

  • CalWORKs,
  • General Assistance/General Relief, or
  • SSI (Supplemental Security Income).

The guideline child support calculator requires parents to indicate the percentage of time each parent spends with the children.

“Time-share” is figured out by comparing the amount of time that each parent has primary physical responsibility for the child. In general, this means that parents need to count the numbers of hours or other portions of the day a parent spends with his or her child. 

If you need help figuring out how to convert your time-share into a percentage, the child support calculator can help. In the “Dependent Information” section of the child support calculator, click on the “Advanced” link. The Advanced link lists over 30 time share scenarios and labels each as a percentage.

For example, if your child custody agreement or order says that parent 1 spends “alternate weekends and 1 evening per week with child 1, the Advanced link lists that arrangement as a 21% timeshare; if parent 1 spends 3 days each week with the child, the “Advanced” link lists that arrangement as 43%; and, further, a timeshare of alternate weekends, ½ holidays, and 2 summer weeks is listed as 19%. 

Although the parent who spends more time with the child usually receives child support, there are some situations where the parent who has the children most of the time will have to pay the other parent support. This can happen, for example, when there is a very large difference in the parents’ income). But this is very unusual. The reason for this is to ensure that the child's needs will be met no matter which parent's home the child is residing.

How long does child support continue?

In California child support usually continues until each child turns 18 years old if he or she graduates from high school. If your 18-year-old child is still a full-time high school student and still lives with a parent, child support ends when your child graduates or turns 19, whichever occurs first.

But parents may agree to support a child longer. The court may also order that both parents continue to support a disabled adult child that cannot support himself or herself.

By law, child support also ends when the child:

  • Marries or registers a domestic partnership,
  • Joins the military,
  • Is emancipated,  or
  • Dies.

Are child support payments tax deductible?

Child support is tax neutral. The payor cannot claim a deduction and the recipient does not have to pay income tax on the amount received.

Can you waive child support?

In California, both parents have a legal duty to both support their child. They are not allowed to make agreements that waive child support. For example,   a parent cannot agree to “give up” support if the other parent agrees to have no further contact with their child.. This is an example of parents not acting in the best interests of the child.

Federal and California laws require that every child support order include an order for "medical support." This means that the court will order either or both parents to provide health insurance for the child as long as it is available at a "reasonable cost."

Do you still have to pay child support if your former partner is in a new relationship?

Child support payments are still required if the primary care giver is in a new relationship. Generally, your former spouse’s new partner is not required to pay support, except in an extraordinary case where the court determines that excluding the income would lead to extreme hardship to the child  

Financial hardship caused by a payor having to financially support children beyond his/her ability may affect the amount of support payable, but this does not cancel one’s obligation to pay.

If you are the payor (the parent who pays the support) do you have to pay child support when the children spend time with you?

Yes. Child support continues even when the children are spending time with the paying parent. The custodial parent must maintain the children’s living environment even when the children are spending time with you, extended family, friends, or away from home on vacation.

Can you stop paying child support if your time with your children is cancelled or interfered with?

No. Child support is not a fee that is paid in exchange for time with the children. The children’s standard of living should not be affected by conflict between the parents over time spent with the children. If a parent continues to interfere or cancel your parenting time, you should get legal help to determine how to address this situation.

Can you ask your former partner to provide receipts to show you how he/she spends the Child Support money?

No. The recipient of child support is free to use the money at their discretion.

Special expenses are treated differently. If your agreement or order includes special expenses, you may ask to see receipts to show that the expenses have been paid.

Can the payor deduct from the regular payments when he/she pays directly for a child’s expense?

No. You cannot deduct money from the child support payment to cover the cost of something you bought for your child, or to pay an activity fee for your child. Payors must pay the full child support payment amount.

Is child support affected by spousal or partner support?

If the payor cannot pay child support and spousal support, child support is the top priority. The calculation for child support payments is not impacted by spousal or partner support payments. However, child support payments are factored in to the determination of spousal or partner support payments.

Can parents make their own agreement about child support?

Parents can agree to a child support amount, but only the judge can decide if it is appropriate to make it a court order. The family law facilitator in your county can help both parents work out a child support agreement and write up the agreement.

Can a child support order be changed?

Depending on the situation, either parent might want to change the amount of child support that is paid.  Changes in child support often make sense if either parent has had a significant change related to:

  • His or her income,
  • The other parent's income, or
  • The amount of time that each parent spends with the child.

Once you file papers with the court  to modify the amount of child support, the court will make its decision based on the current circumstances (mainly both parents' income and time-share with the child).  This means that the child support amount could go either up or down.

If you are not sure whether the change in circumstances will result in an increase or a decrease, you can ask the family law facilitator in your county to help calculate the estimates for you before you file papers to go to court. 

We will be looking at spousal or partner support later in this section of the course. For now, we are going to continue examining child support. The next section provides more information about special and extraordinary expenses.