California Guideline Model
Principles Underlying the Child Support Guidelines in California
(do not rely on this as a statement of the current law)
In California, the current support calculation is based on a statutorily-approved algebraic equation, the end product of which is the appropriate amount of court-ordered support for the child or children of a divorcing couple. Included as components of the equation are three elements which most directly affect the outcome award.
The first of the elements is the net income of the parties. Net income consists of income from any and all sources from which is deducted all mandatory withholding (eg. state/federal taxes, FICA, Medicare tax, retirement contributions etc.) and guideline approved deductions (eg. health insurance premiums, union dues, court-ordered support paid to other relationships). None of the approved deductions is discretionary so a voluntary contribution to a tax-deferred savings plan or a credit union payment made through payroll deductions, are not deemed deductions for net income purposes.
The second of the elements is the number of children. The equation utilizes what is referred to as a "k factor" in the calculation. This is the amount of support from both parents that is deemed necessary to meet the needs of the children based on the total net income of both parents. For one child, this sum is 20% of the combined net income of the parents when that income is $800.00 per month or less and 25% when that income is between $800.00 and $6,666.00 per month. There are extended calculations for income figures above that level. The level of support for one child is reduced per capita for two or more children to adjust for the economy of numbers.
The third element is the percentage of parenting time each party has with the child or children. The equation attributes to each parent the costs associated with time spent with the children. For support calculation purposes credit for a day with the child usually includes the responsibility for having the child overnight. Notwithstanding the perceived revolution in co-parenting, statistics have established that in approximately 80% of divorces in California where there is joint custody, mothers have the children 80% of the time and fathers have the children 20% of the time. Thus, 20% is the default setting of the support calculation software programs although the actual time will be adjusted for appropriate circumstances in any given case.
There are three elements to any court order for child support. The child support award, itself, as results from applying the state guideline equation to the status of the parties net incomes, number of children and parenting time. Additionally, the court will typically divide employment related child care costs incurred by either parent and although the law allows this expense to be apportioned between the parties in light of their income differences, it is frequently ordered shared equally. The last component of most child support awards is the sharing of health care costs not reimbursed by insurance. As with the child care costs, this expense is most often divided equally between the parents. The category includes major expenses, such as orthodontic expenses, as well as all routine unreimbursed health care expenses.
Computing Guideline Support in California
After determining the monthly net disposable income available to both parties, apply the formula for statewide uniform guidelines for determining child support (FC 4055). (Virtually all mediators, attorneys and judges use Dissomaster or some other computer program to perform this calculation)
Support May Vary From Guidelines
Support may vary from that set forth in the California guidelines where:
- parties have stipulated to a different amount;
- the sale of the family residence is deferred and the rental value of the residence exceeds the mortgage payments, homeowner's insurance and property taxes;
- the parent being ordered to pay support has an extraordinarily high income and the formula would exceed the needs of the children;
- both parents have substantially equal time-sharing of the children; or
- children have special medical or other needs.
Additional Child Support
Additional child support may be ordered to cover the following costs:
- child care costs related to employment, education or training;
- uninsured health care costs for the children;
- educational or other special needs of the children;
- travel expense for visitation (FC 4062)
Health Insurance Coverage
Support orders must include a provision requiring that health insurance coverage for a supported child be maintained by either or both parents if that insurance is available at no cost or at reasonable cost to the parent. If none available, order shall specify that health insurance coverage shall be obtained if it becomes available at no or reasonable cost (FC 3751). Each party must keep the other informed regarding health insurance information (FC 3752.5). The insured must provide the appropriate information and forms to enable a party incurring the health care service costs for a dependent to seek reimbursement (FC 3782).
Stipulated Child Support Agreement
Parties may stipulate to a child support amount subject to approval of the court. Court shall not approve a stipulated agreement for child below the guideline formula amount unless the parties declare all of the following:
- They are fully informed of their rights concerning child support;
- The order is being agreed to without coercion or duress;
- The agreement is in the best interests of the children involved;
- The needs of the children will be adequately met by the stipulated amount; and
- The right to support has not been assigned to the county pursuant to Section 11477 of the Welfare and Institutions Code and no public assistance application is pending (FC 4065).
Parties may stipulate to "family support" with an unallocated total sum for support of the spouse and any children without specifically labeling all or any portion as "child support" as long as the amount is adjusted to reflect the effect of additional deductibility. The amount of the order shall be adjusted to maximize the tax benefits for both parents (FC 4066).
Termination of Support
Support shall continue until an unmarried child has attained the age of 18 years, is a full-time high school student who is not self-supporting, until the child completes the 12th grade or attains the age of 19 years, whichever occurs first. Nothing limits a parent's ability to agree to provide additional support (FC 3901).
When support is ordered, it shall be paid by wage assignment unless otherwise agreed by the parties (FC 5230). (See copy of wage assignment attached to this section).