How Child Support Is Calculated In California
California uses a statewide formula to calculate guideline child support. This guideline support is calculated using a computer program, which takes into account each parent’s actual income and level of responsibility for the child. The statewide guideline to determine child support is calculated as follows:
Child support amount = amount of both parent’s income [higher wage earner’s net monthly disposable income – (approximate percentage of time that the high earner has with the children) – (total net monthly disposable income of both parents)]
This calculation is presumed correct unless special circumstances show that the order falls below the guideline formula.
What Is Income?
Wages and salaries earned from employment, income from self-employment, commissions, bonuses, income from rental properties, dividends, pensions, interest income from an annuity or trust, workers’ compensation benefits, unemployment insurance, and disability insurance benefits are considered income for the purposes of calculating child support. Certain incomes such as income from CalWORKs or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) will be included when determining a child support obligation.
Courts have also considered anything that reduces a party’s living expenses, including rent-free housing and meal allowances as an income.
Getting Child Support Order
Either parent can file a request for an order asking for child support, or both parents can agree to the guideline support amount and sign a written stipulation.
Parents can agree to a “non-guideline” support amount only if they:
- Are fully aware of their child support rights
- Know the guideline support amount
- Are not pressured or forced to agree to the child support amount
- Are not receiving or have not applied for public assistance
- Agree to an amount of support that will meet the needs of the children and believe that the amount is in the best interest of the children
- Have a judge approve the amount of child support payments
Although parents can agree to guideline or nonguideline support, parents may not adversely affect the rights of their children or the state by agreeing to limit either child support or attorney fees for issues relating to children.
WARNING: If one parent is receiving any type of public assistance, the local child support agency must agree to the child support agreement between parties.
Consequences Of Falling Behind In Support Payment
If the payor fails to make payments, interest will begin accruing on the outstanding balance. The interest is provided by law and neither the judge nor the payee can waive the interest. The interest is:
10% per year for child support that was due on or after January 1, 1983, or
7% interest per year for child support that was due before January 1, 1983.
If the payor owes past-due child support (arrears), the court may order a wage assignment (also known as wage garnishment). The amount garnished goes to paying off the arrears. Please be aware that even if arrears are paid off in installments, interest may continue to accrue on the outstanding balance.
In some instances, the payee may seek the assistance of the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) to enforce the child support order. If DCSS becomes involved, DCSS will substitute as payee and all future payments must be sent to their office.
Failing to pay child support can have very serious consequences. For example, if DCSS is involved and payor continues not to pay the arrears or current support, the DMV may suspend the payor’s driver’s license, and if the payor owes $2,500 or more in arrears, the U.S. Department of State may refuse to issue the delinquent payor a passport. In addition, if all other attempts to get the payor to comply fails, then a judge can hold the payor in contempt of court, which can result in jail time.
Modifying Child Support
Either parent may request to change child support amount if that parent has had a significant change related to either parent’s change in income, or percentage of time each parent spends with the child.
Tax Consequences Of Child Support
Child support payments are not deductible by the payor or considered taxable income to the payee. The payor of child support may be able to claim the child as a dependent.
For income tax purposes, the parent with whom the child lived for a greater part of the year is the custodial parent. The custodial parent is allowed an exemption for the child if other dependency tests are met.
The noncustodial parent may claim an exemption for the child if the custodial parent signs a Form 8332, release/revocation of release of claim to exemption for child by custodial parent, and the noncustodial parent attaches it to his or her return.
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