Your San Diego Child Support Case: The Basics

Being a parent isn’t just about day games at Petco Park and movies in the Fleet’s Giant Dome. It’s also doctor’s bills, childcare, and new school supplies. Parenting is hard work and it’s expensive, especially if you’re no longer in a relationship with your child’s other parent. Luckily, California law says that each child has the legal right to be financially supported by both parents. That means you don’t have to bear the cost of raising your child by yourself and you can get help from your child’s other parent. FindLaw has put together this article to help you understand the basics of child support law in San Diego.

What is Child Support?

Child support is a payment or expenditure made for the medical care and living expenses of a child. Before a court can enforce a parent’s legal duty to care for his or her child, there must be a child support order in place.

Typically, the non-custodial parent (the parent who does not have primary custody of the child) will be ordered to make child support payments to the custodial parent (the parent who has primary custody). If both parents have equal custody, one parent may still be ordered to pay child support to the other parent. This generally happens if one parent has a significantly higher income than the other parent.

Are There Different Types of Child Support Orders in San Diego?

Yes. You can get two types of child support orders in San Diego -- non-governmental orders and governmental orders.

Non-governmental orders are orders made by a judge or family law commissioner as part of these types of cases:

Governmental orders are orders made by a child support commissioner in cases filed or enforced by the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS). DCSS provides the following services:

  • Establishing paternity;
  • Locating a non-custodial parent;
  • Initiating and enforcing child support and medical support orders;
  • Modifying support orders; and
  • Collecting and disbursing support payments.

How Do I Apply for Child Support Services With DCSS?

You can submit an application online or pick up an application packet at 220 W. Broadway, 7th floor in San Diego or 5055 Ruffin Road in Kearny Mesa. There is no fee to submit an application.

If you are a custodial parent receiving cash public assistance, a referral has been automatically filed with DCSS and you do not need to submit a separate application. If you are a foster parent, DCSS will open a case against both non-custodial parents.

How Do I Get a Child Support Order With DCSS?

To establish a child support order with DCSS in San Diego, you must first file a Summons and Complaint at 220 W. Broadway, Room 4005 in San Diego. A copy of the Summons and Complaint will be sent to both you and the non-custodial parent. Once the non-custodial parent receives the paperwork, he or she will have 30 days to respond.

There are three basic ways to get a child support order through DCSS once both parents have received a copy of the Summons and Complaint.

  • Agreement: Parents can meet on their own or with a child support staff member to discuss their case. In situations where the custodial parent does not receive public assistance, parents can negotiate an agreement called a stipulation and avoid a court hearing.
  • Court Hearing: A non-custodial parent has the right to a court hearing if he or she files a response to the Summons and Complaint and does not agree to a stipulation with the custodial parent. At the court hearing, the judge will decide the amount of support a non-custodial parent must pay.
  • Default: If a non-custodial parent does not file an answer to the Summons and Complaint, and there is no stipulation between the parents, the court can enter a Default Judgment without the participation of the non-custodial parent.

How Are Child Support Payments Calculated?

A judge determines child support payments using a formula called the Child Support Guidelines. Under state law, a judge can deviate from the Guidelines only in special circumstances. The Guidelines take several factors into consideration, including the income of the parents, the number of children the parents have together, childcare and healthcare costs, and child custody arrangements.

You can use the Child Support Guideline Calculator to estimate child support payments.

What If the Non-Custodial Parent Stops Paying?

Generally, the non-custodial parent’s employer deducts child support payments directly from that parent’s paycheck. If, however, a non-custodial parent fails to make payments, DCSS may use any of the following methods to enforce the order:

  • Filing for a lien against any property owned by the non-custodial parent;
  • Intercepting state and federal income tax refunds, unemployment wages, state disability insurance, social security administration payments, workers’ compensation awards, and lottery winnings;
  • Reporting the non-custodial parent to credit bureaus;
  • Denying a passport;
  • Suspending business, professional, and driver’s licenses;
  • Seizing funds from bank accounts; and
  • Requesting court proceedings resulting in fines and/or jail time.

How Can I Change My Support Order?

Either parent can request a change to the support order from the court. Parents with governmental support orders can ask for an adjustment through DCSS or from the court directly.

If the child support order is below the guideline amount, you can request a reevaluation at any time. In all other cases, you must show there has been a "significant change in circumstances" since the order was issued. Examples of this sort of change include substantial adjustments to one parent’s income, modifications in child custody and visitation, and the incarceration of a non-custodial parent.

When Does Child Support End?

A child support order typically ends when one of the following circumstances occurs:

  • The child turns eighteen years old (although support may continue until the child graduates high school);
  • The child marries or registers a domestic partnership;
  • The child joins the military;
  • The child is emancipated; or
  • The child dies.

If they choose, parents can make an agreement to extend child support for longer. A court may also order both parents to continue supporting their child who is a disabled adult unable to support himself or herself.

Get a Free Attorney Match

Child support is a particularly contentious and emotional issue. The outcome of proceedings relating to child support will impact your financial life for years to come, regardless of whether you are claiming child support or are looking at being subjected to a child support order. The assistance of a qualified lawyer can help ensure that the support arrangements are fair to you. Contact a local attorney to schedule your free initial case review.

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