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Is there a cap on child support payments in California?

One question some parents have — particularly wealthy parents — is whether California places a cap on the maximum amount of monthly child support payments.

Many are surprised to learn that California is actually one of the few states that does not have a child support cap. In fact, child support payments in California are typically based solely upon a preset formula that takes into account several variables, including the incomes of both parents and custody time, among other factors. In most cases, a parent will simply need to pay whatever the formula says, and there is no limit.

However, as with most things, there are exceptions to this rule — including one possible exception for parents with exceptionally high incomes.

Deviating from the child support formula

While California law states that the child support payments determined by the preset formula are “presumed” to be the correct amount, there are instances in which a parent can rebut or refute this presumption, including, but not limited to, instances in which:

  • The parent ordered to pay child support has an “extraordinarily high income” and the child support amount determined using the formula exceeds the needs of the child
  • The parents have stipulated to a different child support amount
  • A parent is not contributing to the child’s needs in an appropriate amount given that parent’s custodial time

As you can see, one of the exceptions listed above is when a parent has a high income. However, if a parent wishes to use this exception, California courts have held that he or she bears the burden of proving to the court that the amount ordered under the formula is unjust or inappropriate, and that a lower amount would be consistent with the best interests of the child.

In addition, in the case of wealthy parents, it is well established that the needs of a child are measured by current situation of the parents, and therefore a child is entitled to support consistent with the parents’ position. As one California court put it, “[A parent’s] duty to support [his or her] children does not end with the furnishing of the mere of mere necessities if he [or she] is able to afford more."

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