California Child Support Guidelines

In California, child support is the amount of money that a court can order a parent or both parents to pay every month for the expense of raising a child (or children). A judge determines the amount of child support based on a state-wide guideline and will issue a child support order. While this may seem pretty straightforward, child support cases can be highly emotional and involve other legal matters, such as paternity or divorce issues.

Here's a summary of California's child support guidelines and requirements.

How a Court Determines Support

Child support laws are determined at the state level. Each parent is legally responsible for the financial support of their child. The court will make a child support order based on both parent's income levels and the amount of time each person physically spends with the child.

How Long Does a Parent Have to Pay Child Support?

A parent's legal support duty continues until the child:

  • Turns 18 years of age, and has graduated from high school;
  • Turns 19 years old; or
  • Marries, dies, or is legally free in some way, such as joining the military.

Also, the court can order both parents to continue support for a disabled adult child if that child cannot support him or herself.

Income and Expense Declaration

Each parent is required to fill out an Income and Expense Declaration (PDF) under penalty of perjury and provide proof of the amount of their income.

The Child Support Formula

Next, the judge will calculate how much each parent is required to pay in child support.

The judge will look at the "net disposable income" for each parent. This means the parent's income after taxes, mandatory union dues, mandatory retirement contributions, health premiums, child or spousal support already being paid, and costs associated with raising children from another relationship.

Additionally, the court will look at all other sources of income such as money, tips, bonuses, commissions, overtime, property and

  • Employment Wages
  • Self-employment earnings
  • Unemployment Benefits
  • Disability and Workers' Compensation Benefits
  • Social Security and pensions
  • Dividends, Stocks
  • Interest Earned on Investments
  • Rental Property Income
  • State Lottery and Prize Winnings

The court will also base the support order on how much time the parent spends with the child. This is called "time-share." The court will calculate the number of hours a parent physically spends with their child. Simply put, the less time a parent spends with a child, the more he or she may be ordered to pay in child support.

What Expenses are Included in the Monthly Child Support Calculation?

Here is a short list of the types of expenses included when figuring out child support needs:

  • Monetary support (food, clothing, & shelter)
  • Health insurance
  • Back payments
  • Interest on back payments

Monetary support includes food, clothing, housing, basic education and other essentials for a child. Other expenses can be ordered by the judge or agreed to by the parents including:

  • Child care;
  • Unpaid medical bills;
  • Travel costs for visitation; and
  • Extracurricular activities such as sports, lessons, field trips, and other activities.

The following table highlights the main provisions of California's Child Support laws. See also Child Custody, Child Support Modifications, and Child Support Enforcement.

Code Section Family Code ยง4050-4076
Who is Responsible? Both Parents
How Support is Calculated? California Guidelines Child Support Calculator
Factors "Net-Disposable Income" and "Time-Share" (see above for explanation)
What Monthly Expenses Can the Judge Order? Monetary support (food, clothing, & shelter), health insurance, and back payments and interest. Also might include child care, unpaid medical bills, visitation travel costs, and extracurricular activities.
Age of Child Support required until the child turns 18 and graduates high school or turns 19 years old. Support also ends if the child marries, dies, becomes emancipated, or joins the military.

Federal Child Support Rules

Most cases will be handled by state and local authorities, but some federal guidelines
exist under the Child Support Enforcement Act. For a more detailed explanation, see "A Citzen's Guide to U.S. Federal Law on Child Support Enforcement."

Because California's child support laws can sometimes get complicated, it may also be a good idea to consult an experienced California Family Law Attorney, the Department of Child Support Services, or your local family law facilitator if you have questions about your specific situation.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.