How Is Child Support Calculated, and Who Needs to Pay It?

judge gavel calculating child support

When parents decide to get a divorce, there are several layers of legal matters that need to be addressed, including child support. 

Not every family needs to deal with child support, but for those who do, it’s an important process that can have a big impact on everyone involved.

So how is child support calculated? And who is responsible for paying it? Keep reading to find out.

What Factors Affect Child Support?

Each state has a unique guideline for determining child support and how much should be paid by each parent. 

In California, the California Child Support Guidelines help determine how much is owed by each parent. This calculation depends on a variety of factors:

  • The income and earning capacity of each parent
  • The physical and emotional condition of the children
  • How much time each parent spends with the children (known as “time-share”)
  • The ages and number of minor children in the family
  • The value of services contributed by either parent, such as staying home to care for the children
  • The standard of living the children would have enjoyed had their parents not divorced or separated
  • Any other factors the court deems relevant

Keep in mind, the amount of child support a court will order for any particular case may be different than the amount estimated by the state guidelines, so the guidelines are only a starting point.

How Are the Payments for Child Support Split Up?

Both parents are responsible for supporting their children financially. In most cases, one parent pays child support to the other parent, who is the custodial parent (the one with whom the child lives most of the time).

If both parents have joint physical custody (meaning the child lives with each parent an equal amount of time), then child support may not be ordered, or the court may order a reduced amount.

The non-custodial parent usually pays child support to the custodial parent, but some exceptions apply. For example, the courts may evaluate child support differently if the custodial parent has a very high income and the non-custodial parent has a very low income.

The court will order the parent who owes child support (the “obligor”) to pay an amount based on a percentage of his or her income. The percentage varies depending on the number of children, and here’s the breakdown:

  • One child: 18% of the obligor’s monthly income
  • Two children: 25% of the obligor’s monthly income
  • Three children: 29% of the obligor’s monthly income
  • Four children: 31% of the obligor’s monthly income
  • Five or more children: at least 35% of the obligor’s monthly income

The court may order a higher or lower percentage of the obligor’s income to be paid as child support, depending on the particular circumstances of the case.

Can I Calculate Expected Child Support Payments Myself?

The guideline the court uses is a very complex formula that uses numerous factors, including the parents’ income, deductions, and time spent with the child to come up with a dollar amount for child support. 

But if you’d like to get a very broad estimate of what your support payment might be, you can use the California online child support calculator here.

Be prepared with the following information when you use the calculator:

  • Each parent’s gross income
  • The percentage of time each child spends with each parent
  • Any available income tax deductions that the parents can claim, such as mortgage interest
  • Mandatory payroll deductions, such as health insurance, pensions, and union dues
  • Child care costs incurred by either parent

Talking through the different variables with an experienced family law attorney will give you a better idea of what to expect.

How Is Child Support Enforced?

If the obligor doesn’t pay child support, there are several ways that the custodial parent can get the money they need. The county child support office can help with many of these methods, and some are even free.

The first step is usually to send a “notice and order to withhold” to the obligor’s employer, which orders the employer to withhold the amount of child support from the obligor’s paycheck and send it to the custodial parent.

If that doesn’t work, the county child support office can also take other steps, such as getting a lien on the obligor’s property, intercepting their state and federal tax refunds, suspending their driver’s license, professional license, or passport, or reporting the obligor to credit agencies.

If you need help enforcing a child support order, you should contact your county child support office.

Key Takeaways

Child support is a crucial part of ensuring that your children have the financial resources they need to thrive. There are many different factors that go into calculating child support, including each parent’s gross income, the percentage of time each child spends with each parent, and any available income tax deductions.

At Monarch Family Law, we’ve been helping the Orange County community successfully resolve their family disputes for years. If you have any questions about child support, whether you’re the one paying or receiving it, please reach out to us. Our team will help you understand the child support guidelines and how to protect your rights and the rights of your family.