How the Court Sets Child Support in California - The Basics
What the Court must consider to set child support.Child support in California is set by a mathematical formula that has only four (4) factors to it, (1) the net after tax income of a parent, (2) the net after tax income of the other parent, (3) the number of minor children, that is under the age of 18 but there are some exceptions, these two parents have together and (4) how these two parents share their minor children. These rules are the same if the parents are mom and dad, mom and mom or dad and dad. I'll try not to use any titles but if I do it's just for the sake of convenience.
The Court does not consider what you can afford to pay nor does it look at your bills or other expenses. The Court must first determine this mathematical child support referred to as the Guideline Support. Only under very limited circumstances may the Court ever deviate from the Guideline. That is the topic for another Legal Guide, not this one. Here we will just look at what the Court takes into consideration in getting to that Guideline Support.
Determine the net after tax pay by looking at the gross pay.In this Legal Guide it is assumed that one or both parents have a paycheck receiving job. This Legal Guide does not go into the issues surrounding a parent that is self-employed or a parent that is independently wealthy as these have many other considerations for the Court and are subjects for other Legal Guides.
As we are only looking at parents with paychecks to get to a parent's net after tax pay the Court can just look at that paycheck stub. What the Court really does though is to take the parents gross pay, that is the money earned before taxes are taken out, and put that sum into a computer program that just calculates child support. You can find child support calculators on-line and at the courthouse or you can ask the Family Court Facilitator to help you.
So first the Court enters the gross income for both parents, which will include overtime but bonuses are treated differently, more about that later, into the computer.
Determine the net by looking at your tax filing status.Now that the Court has your gross income in the computer, it will next set your tax filing status. Will you file single, head-of-household, married-joint, married-separate? Each has an impact on your net after tax income. Once this is set, the Court the assigns deductions. You get to claim yourself but who claims the children? Generally the Court will assign the child dependency deductions to the parent who has the most custody.
With the filing status and deductions entered into the computer, the Court will now enter the child sharing into the computer. This is referred to as the timeshare. That is the timeshare a parent has with the children. That number will be 0% to 50%.
Adding unearned income.Now that the Court has the wages of both parents or just one if only one is working outside the home, the Court adds and enters any income each parent receives that they did not work to earn such as bank interest, rental income or any dividends.
Deducting things allowed by law.The Court will next enter into the computer things that the law allows it to remove from a parent's income, besides taxes, before it calculates the support. If either parent pays child or spousal support in another case, that is entered in the computer. Also the court will enter the cost of any health insurance paid or deducted from a parent's pay. If one or both parents pays mortgage interest or property taxes that is entered into the computer. There is the ability to take other allowable tax like deductions but you have to explain them to the Court and make a strong case. The Court is looking to find income for child support. This is also true for other children you have in your family if you are the support payor, called a hardship. The Court can allow a deduction for such children but it is not required to do so.
Calculating the Child Support.Now if a parent has remarried that parent's new mate's gross income is entered into the computer, not to add income to that parent but to figure that parent's actual after tax net income as new mate income impacts taxes, generally the taxes are higher making the net after tax income lower.
The Court has now entered what it needs to calculate the basic Guideline Child Support. The computer will give the Court a child support number for each minor child. This number is presumed by law to be correct and if a parent thinks it is wrong they have to prove why it is wrong.
Bonus pay.The Court can do two things with bonus pay. It can average it over the year and add it to the regular pay but the preferred thing is to use the computer to generate a table that will set a percentage of the gross before tax bonus and then the Court will have that percentage paid from the bonus when it is received.