The main thing to understand is that the state of California says that both parents are responsible to contributing to their kids’ support and well-being. When it comes to child support, here’s how it works.
Is Child Support Mandatory in Divorce?
Child support is mandatory in divorce. The court can order one or both parents to pay child support, even if the divorcing couple doesn’t request it.
The law says, “Both parents are mutually responsible for the support of their children … each parent should pay for the support of the children according to his or her ability.”
The courts presume that the parent who has primary physical responsibility for the kids is already contributing a significant part of his or her resources to support them. That means if your children live with you most of the time and only visit with the other parent, the court counts the fact that you’re providing food, shelter and clothing for the kids toward your support obligation – and the other parent is typically the one who has to make child support payments.
The courts usually use California’s child support guidelines when they’re determining how much child support one parent will pay. The child support guidelines account for each parent’s net disposable income. In order to reach that figure, the court figures out each parent’s gross annual income, subtract deductions required by law, and then divide that by 12 (the months of the year) to find the monthly amount.
A parent’s gross income includes income from all sources, including:
- Salary or wages, bonuses, commissions, rental income, pensions, royalties and other benefits
- Income from the ownership of a business
- Employment or self-employment benefits in some cases
The deductions the court will take to figure out net income are:
- Mandatory union dues
- State tax obligations
- Federal tax obligations
- Job-related expenses that are necessary to job performance
- Health insurance premiums
- Hardships like basic living expenses for children from previous relationships or extraordinary health expenses
The courts determine mandatory child support based on how much time each parent spends with the children and which parent the kids live with.
The courts can still order you to pay child support and make it mandatory, even if you have no income. Sometimes one parent refuses to work in order to avoid paying child support – but in cases like those, the courts will look at that parent’s ability to earn and base child support calculations on how much that person could earn if he or she was employed. However, in order for the courts to do this – it’s called imputing income – the other parent will need to provide proof that there are jobs that the non-paying parent is qualified to perform.
Can My Spouse and I Agree to Our Own Child Support Arrangements?
You and your spouse can agree to your own child support arrangements and submit your plan to the court. The court does not have to approve it. However, if you do make your own child support agreement, it must state that:
- You both know your rights
- Neither of you were forced to agree to this arrangement
- The agreement is in your kids’ best interests
- The agreement will meet your kids’ needs
- Neither of you are receiving public assistance and neither of you have applied for public assistance
How Long Does Mandatory Child Support Last in a Divorce?
Typically, parents are required to pay child support until the child reaches the age of 18. However, there are some exceptions. For example, if your child becomes emancipated before the age of 18, you can stop paying. (Your child will be considered emancipated if he or she gets married, gets a declaration of emancipation from a court, or goes on active duty in the military.)
You still have to pay if your child is 18 but is still in high school and is not self-supporting. That obligation doesn’t end until your child turns 19 or completes 12th grade – whichever comes first.
If your child is unable to earn a living and doesn’t have sufficient means to live, both of you are required to support him or her to the extent that you’re able.
You can agree to a child support order that extends longer if you want to.
Do You Need to Talk to a Lawyer About Child Support Being Mandatory in a Divorce?
If you’re still not sure whether child support is mandatory in divorce because of your situation, we may be able to help you.