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How Child Support Is Determined And Calculated In California

In this article, you will learn:

  • How spousal and child support are calculated and determined

The Courts in California use a guideline system. It is not as simple as “Well, I have the kids 50% of the time, so I don’t have to pay anything,” No. There is a formula and a big factor is each party’s income. If one parent makes significantly more than the other parent, even if they share the children 50% of the time, the parent making more money is going to have to pay child support to the other parent under the guidelines. The higher earning parent can even have the child for more than half the time and still owe child support under the formula. Child support should not be thought of as money to the other parent. It is really for the support of the children, and it is a determination that the state of California has made and is deemed to be in the children’s best interest even if it is arguably used by the other parent for non-child expenses. It is not earmarked to be used only for the child, and indeed can and is used for shared living expenses by the other parent. The recipient parent is also not required to account for how the child support is used. It is paid and that is it. This can understandably be frustrating to the payor, yet it is fair to say that NO child support recipient believes the amount they receive in child support from the other parent is too much or even enough.

There are situations where one parent has the children a greater amount of time than the other parent, but again, if that parent makes more money, the calculation and the guideline will mean that that parent is paying child support to the other parent even though that parent has the children a greater percentage. There are online tools that are available, but the concept of what is income available for support can be tricky. Tax return income is not the “income available for support” in California. It is our job to help clients understand what the state of California considers income available for support for the guideline calculation, as well as to increase or decrease the guideline calculation as appropriate.

How Spousal Support Is Determined And Calculated In California?

Spousal support is actually more complicated than child support because there are two types of spousal support AND, unlike child support, it is discretionary. There is Temporary Spousal Support, which is during the divorce, and used to ensure that each party has what they need to keep the divorce process going, and there is judgment spousal support, sometimes called permanent spousal support (even though it is not).

Temporary spousal support uses the same guidelines calculations as child support does and that amounts to roughly 40% of the greater earner’s net pay for temporary spousal support. I hear all the time people reading things online that they have found and say, “Well, this is a short-term marriage so I shouldn’t have to pay”, or, “the other person needs to get a job so I shouldn’t have to pay”. Those things do not factor into the temporary spousal support. What they are referring to is judgment spousal support for AFTER the divorce. It is also sometimes referred to as permanent spousal support; I do not like to call it permanent because it is not. It is judgment spousal support meaning the amount of spousal support that is in the judgment after the case is over. The state of California has determined that a marriage of ten years or more is considered a long-term marriage and yes, if it is a marriage of less than ten years, the presumption is judgment spousal support for half the length of the marriage. Here, I am using words like presumption and what the court assumes because it is not automatic.

Judgment spousal support is the area where the court has the most discretion in determining what is fair. “What is fair” is likely not to be agreed to by each side, and the side who is paying is likely to think that what is fair is a lesser amount, and the side that is receiving is likely to believe a different amount is what is fair. There is the expectation in California that both people will contribute to their own support. Spousal support is not a pension, it is not something that was earned during the marriage like social security that someone then gets to sit back and receive. If the recipient remarries, the spousal support terminates. Indeed, if the payor dies, the spousal support terminates! The court will expect that each party will take steps to provide for their own support, whether that means getting job training and going back to work, or perhaps making more money than they were making maybe in a previous job during the marriage, and this will be relevant if the payor seeks to modify or terminate the judgment spousal support later. Yes, this is possible and again why I refer to it as judgment spousal support rather than permanent spousal support; there cannot be a termination date set by the court (but one CAN be agreed by the parties) but this does not mean that it is not terminable.

Judgment spousal support is intended to help somebody make a soft landing and get back on their feet following a divorce. It is not intended to be lifetime support, and that is really the reason why I do not call it permanent support. I think that gives people the false expectation that they can sit back even though there is no termination date for a long-term marriage in California for the judgment support. They cannot. They need to figure out how they will provide for their own support, whether that means by working, by investing assets they received in the divorce, by living with adult children, or even by remarrying.

For more information on Family Law in California, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you seek by calling us at (858) 225-4840 today.

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