Child support obligations in California, the basics

In California, a parent's duty to support his or her child is an absolute and long-standing obligation. Indeed, California law expressly states that both the father and the mother of a child have an "equal responsibility" to support such child in a manner appropriate to the child's circumstances.

Typically, child support payments in California are based upon a preset formula that primarily takes into account both parents' incomes as well as the time the child spends with each parent. However, other factors may also come into play, including costs related to health insurance, child care, school expenses and mortgage payments.

Given that it is assumed that a parent with physical custody will already be spending his or her income on the care of the child, this calculation will generally result in the non-custodial parent being required to pay child support. Clearly, if the parents share custody, this amount may be adjusted.

Importantly, child support obligations in California continue until the child reaches the age of 18 years - although, if the child is a full-time high school student, payments may continue until he or she turns 19 or completes the 12 th grade, whichever occurs first. Additionally, if the child is incapacitated and unable to earn a living, both the father and mother have an equal responsibility to maintain the child, regardless of his or her age.

Modification of child support in California

While California courts may modify child support obligations as they deem necessary, in most instances child support will not be modified unless there is a material changes in circumstances since the support order was put in place. Often times, the issue examined during modification disputes is whether the change in circumstances has impacted either parent's financial situation.

For instance, if the supporting parent's standard of living has improved, or if he or she has experienced a significant increase in income and earnings, there may be grounds for increasing child support obligations. Ultimately, the important thing to remember is that the best interests of the child need to be considered when contemplating any child support modification.

Legal guidance is available

Even though child support obligations are assessed using a formula in California, the resulting calculation of this formula is entirely dependent upon the numbers that go into it. As such, it is often best to consult with an experienced child support attorney in order to ensure all relevant variables are taken into consideration when calculating child support or attempting to modify any prior support orders. A knowledgeable attorney can help protect both you and your child's rights.