How is Child Support Calculated in California?

Some of the most common concerns for divorcing parents revolve around child support—specifically who will be required to pay, and how much. 

Unfortunately, since child support isn’t standardized, those questions don’t have easy answers. Instead, California child support payments are determined using an equation that factors each parent’s finances against the amount of time they spent parenting.

Here’s a little bit more about how child support is calculated in California, and how the team at Maples Family Law can help estimate what you’ll likely pay.


Child Support Overview

In California, child support can be defined as: money that one parent pays to the other for the purpose of supporting their child.

The need for these payments comes up most often during divorce and separation, however, it can also be applicable to unmarried parents in need of a structured parenting plan. 

Child support amounts vary from family to family, and will ultimately be determined by your judge, in conjunction with state guidelines. Payments are almost always made by the non-custodial parent to the custodial one, and will be heavily influenced by the division of time outlined in your custody and visitation agreement.

The rules governing these calculations are laid out in the California Child Support Guidelines. 


California Child Support Guidelines

In California, both parents have the obligation to support their child, according to their station and means—a burden they share in equal measure. 

To help parents meet these obligations, the California Child Support Guidelines were structured with a twofold purpose: 

  1. To lay out a clear-cut, minimum level of support required for one child; and, 
  2. To make support calculations uniform across the board, regardless of income level. 

By structuring the rules this way, California takes much of the guesswork and subjectivity out of child support, lessening the variability between cases, and making amounts (relatively) easier to determine, overall. 

While judges do have the power to alter or adjust the final amount produced by the child support equation, they can only do so under certain, specific circumstances—all of which are also outlined and governed by state guidelines.


Calculating Child Support: Income and Custody

To calculate support payments, California courts use a complex equation that relies heavily on the interplay between the parents’ respective finances, and the amount of time each will spend with their child. 

This requires you to know both your net disposable income, as well as your parenting timeshare percentage (as outlined by your custody agreement).


Net Disposable Income

A person’s net disposable income is calculated by taking their gross income, and adjusting that number for deductions. To do this, you will need the numbers for:

  • Your gross annual income (which is your pay before deductions); 
  • All income tax deductions;
  • All payroll deductions (such as health care, union dues, and pensions); as well as, 
  • Any childcare costs you have incurred. 

Keep in mind you will need both your own net disposable income, as well as the combined numbers for both you and your spouse. 


Custody Agreement

The other important element that’s critical to California’s child support equation, is your parenting timeshare percentages

In California, it’s typical for the non-custodial parent to make support payments to the primary resident parent. This is because the primary resident parent (or “custodial parent”) is usually incurring higher costs by having the child live with them, full time. How much time, however, is critical to determining child support amounts. 

As a general rule, the less time you spend with your child, the more child support you’re likely to pay. 

Parenting time is something that you can decide on together, outside of court, through alternative resolution methods such as mediation. If you are unable to agree, however, a judge will decide on custody arrangements as part of your divorce. 


The California Child Support Equation

Once you have the necessary financial and parenting time information, your child support can be calculated using this equation: 

CS = K [HN – (H%)(TN)]

While this might look a bit scary, once you know which letters stand for what, things start to make a little more sense: 

  • CS—child support.
  • K—the total amount of both parents’ income that will be devoted to child support. (A number that is based on evaluating how much each parent earns against the percentage of time each spends with their child.)
  • HN—which stands for “high net,” and represents the spouse with the highest net disposable income.
  • H%—the percentage of time that the high net parent spends with their child.
  • TN—the combined disposable income of both parents.

So, to put it a little more simply, child support (CS), equals (K). And to find out (K), you:  

  1. Take the high earner’s percent of parenting time (H%), and multiply it by your combined disposable income (TN). Then,
  2. Subtract that number from the total disposal income of the high net earner (HN).

As you can see, even simplified, this is a pretty complicated process. (Which is usually why even the best of attorneys and judges take full advantage of the state’s child support calculator!) 


Special Adjustments

According to the California Family Code, judges are allowed to adjust the final amount of your equation under certain circumstances, such as when: 

  • You’ve both agreed to a different arrangement (and the judge deems it appropriate);
  • One parent has an extraordinarily high income, which (when plugged into the equation), results in an amount that far exceeds the child’s needs; 
  • The amounts would be unjust (as determined by the judge);
  • Your parenting times are nearly equal, but there’s a significant disparity in wealth;
  • One parent is spending a lot more in housing for the child than the other; 
  • The child has special needs or medicine; and, 
  • Situations where the child has more than two parents. 

Judges are also allowed to account for “add-on” costs, which include expenses incurred for: 

  • Child care costs related to employment, education, or training for employment; 
  • Uninsured health care expenses for the child;
  • Costs related to a child’s education or other special needs; as well as,
  • Travel expenses for visitation. 

Finally, we should mention that the results of the above equation are only accurate if you have one child. For parents with multiples, further adjustments will need to be made based on the number of children you have, as well as how much time each parent spends with each, individual child.

For help navigating this confusing minefield, it’s best to talk to an experienced family law attorney, who can also ensure you get the most accurate estimates. 


Child Support Attorneys in California

At Maples Family Law, we understand the unique challenges parents face when getting divorced, and want to do everything possible to help give your child the bright future they deserve. 

If you have more questions about how child support is calculated in California, and what that might look like in your situation, we want to hear from you. Call us at (209) 989-4425, or get in touch online to schedule your consultation today, and let us ensure your child’s best interests are met.