How does California determine and enforce child support?

California has a set calculation in place to determine child support payments, though a judge may be able to stray from those guidelines.

Establishing support payments is an important part of ensuring that a child's basic needs are covered. Parents in California who are trying to determine who will receive what should know how the state handles the issue. There is a set mathematical equation that determines how much these payments will be, generating a number by which a court will usually abide. A parent who is delinquent in making payments could face a number of consequences, some of them very severe.

Child support guidelines

As the State of California provides, both parents are financially responsible for the wellbeing of a child. When the parents of a child are not married, the normal procedure to establish child support payments is to concurrently file a Petition to established paternity with a Request for Order ("RFO"), requesting that the court determine child support. In most cases, the custodial parent will be the one receiving the money.

When deciding how much is necessary to support a child and who will pay what amount, a court will take into account the following:

  • Both parents' income and/or earning capacity
  • How much time the child spends living with each parent
  • Tax deductions each parent may be able to take
  • Mandatory payroll deductions such as those associated with health insurance
  • The cost of child care

Certain items are not included in the calculation. For example, if one party marries someone, that spouse's income is typically only taken into account insofar as it affects the party's after-tax income. For instance, a new spouse's income added to a party's income normally bumps the party into a higher tax bracket. Consequently, that party is now paying higher taxes. If the party is now paying higher taxes, they have less money available to pay child support. In short, when a new spouse's income is added to the equation, child support may be lowered. If the party is the receiving party for child support, they may need more child support. The moral of the story is to find out from an attorney your best and worst scenarios before you proceed to court. Only in the rarest of cases will a new spouse's income be used for paying child support to a child not of the former marriage or relationship.

The law does permit a judge to deviate from the guidelines, but it is the attorney's job to illustrate why this is proper (or improper). In order to do so, the judge must state the reason for the deviation and why it is in the best interest of the child.

Enforcing child support payments

A court order for child support is a legal document that requires one party to make payments to another. Someone owed child support may retain a private attorney to pursue payment or contact the Department of Child Support Services for help with enforcement. The Department has vast collection powers and is able to intercept an income tax return or freeze the delinquent parent's bank account to obtain the funds that are owed.

Other remedies available include suspending a driver's or professional license until payments are made. The Judicial Branch of California provides that a passport could be denied to someone who fails to make child support payments. Falling behind on child support can also have repercussions on someone's credit report as well.

It is imperative for parents to find a fair child support resolution and ensure it is one that is enforced. Anyone dealing with or who has questions about this issue should consult with a family law attorney in California.