In implementing child support, the family code spells out principles that the courts must follow when determining a child support order. Some of these principals include the following:

1) A parent's first and principal obligation is to support his or her minor children. Simplistically put, don't come to court and argue you can't pay child support because your car payment, mortgage payment, or grocery bill is too high, it will not work and is of no concern to the court.

2) Both parents are mutually responsible for the support of their children. The support calculation takes into account each parent's actual income and level of responsibility for the children.

3) This guideline seeks to place the interests of children as the state's top priority. Children should share in the standard of living of both parents.

4) It is presumed that a parent having primary physical responsibility for the children contributes a significant portion of available resources for the support of the children.

Child support is computed by first figuring out the total net income of each parent. The annual gross income of each parent means income from whatever source derived, and includes, but is not limited to commissions, salaries, royalties, wages, bonuses, rents, dividends, pensions, interest, trust income, annuities, workers' compensation benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, disability insurance benefits, social security benefits, and spousal support actually received from a person who is not a party to the child support order, and income from the operation of a business.

Remember, above when I said don't come to court and argue you can't pay child support because your car payment, mortgage payment, or grocery bill is too high, it will not work and is of no concern to the court. The reason this does not work is because the annual net disposable income of each parent is computed by only deducting from his or her annual gross income the actual amounts attributable to the following items:

A) The state and federal income tax liability;

B) Deductions attributed to the employee's contribution or the self-employed worker's contribution under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA), or an amount not to exceed that allowed under FICA for persons not subject to FICA;

C) Deductions for mandatory union dues and retirement benefits, if they are required as a condition of employment;

D) Deductions for health insurance or health plan premiums for the parent and for any children that the parent has an obligation to support and deductions for state disability insurance premiums;

E) Any child or spousal support actually being paid by the parent under a court order, to or for the benefit of any person who is not a subject of the child support order to be established by the court;

F) Job-related expenses, if allowed by the court after consideration of whether the expenses are necessary;

G) A deduction for hardship, which includes (1) extraordinary health expenses for which the parent is financially responsible, and uninsured catastrophic losses; or (2) the minimum basic living expenses of either parent's natural or adopted children for whom the parent has the obligation to support from other marriages or relationships who reside with the parent.

That is it, no other deductions are allowed when determining a party's disposable income since a parent's first and principal obligation is to support his or her minor children. Notice how rent, mortgage payments, car payments, and grocery bills are not a consideration?

The bottom line of all this is simple. Financial support of your children takes precedent over almost all of your other expenses. These principals weigh heavily on a parent who earns a substantial income or has less than 50% custody.

It's no secret, people struggle when facing a child support order. Why? Well, especially in today's economy, when together the average parents' combined income was barely enough to support one household. After separation, that same income must now support two households. The bills substantially increase, but the income stays the same. There is simply not enough money to go around, but according to the law, there must be enough.

James Sansone is an experienced Santa Rosa divorce and child support lawyer and his office serves clients throughout Sonoma County, Mendocino County, and Lake County, including Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Sonoma, Kenwood, Glen Ellen, Windsor, Bodega Bay, Ukiah, Willits, Clearlake, Lakeport, and Kelseyville.