Child Support Lawyers in San Diego Helping Clients Navigate Child Support Issues in California
The state of California gives equal rights and responsibilities to both parents of a child after a divorce, which means both parents should share the financial burden of raising a child and providing for all of the child’s needs. For that reason, child support payments are an essential part of any divorce order. Learn how child support works in California and how to get help if your ex-spouse fails to make child support payments as ordered by the court.
How Are Child Support Payments Calculated in California?
In California, child support payments are calculated, taking into consideration each parent’s net disposable income. The net disposable income is calculated by determining each parent’s gross income – which encompasses most income sources such as wages, pensions, investment dividends, and income resulting from business ownership or self-employment. The court will then deduct certain expenses, such as taxes and health insurance premiums, and the remainder is considered net income.
The formula for calculating child support payments also considers a factor called timeshare, which is the amount of time each parent spends with the child. As a general guideline, the parent with a higher income and spending less time with the child may likely be ordered to pay child support. Still, each case is different, and courts can sometimes order a different amount than what is determined by the guidelines.
What Do Child Support Payments Cover?
Child support payments typically cover the child’s basic needs and ordinary living expenses, such as food, clothing, education, transportation, and other basic necessities. It is important to understand that child support payments do not cover certain expenses such as childcare costs, traveling to and from the noncustodial parent’s residence, and any healthcare costs not covered by insurance.
It should be mentioned that the additional expenses not covered by child support payments may also be incorporated as a part of the child support order. These ‘add-on’ expenses can be shared between the parents, or the judge can determine a specific amount for the noncustodial parent to pay in addition to child support.
Furthermore, either one or both parents are required to provide health insurance to the child if they can access a policy for free or for a reasonable price, including vision and dental coverage. The health insurance payments are made in addition to base child support payments, and the amount of each payment is considered reasonable if it does not exceed 5% of the gross income of the parent providing health insurance.
The health insurance policy must give the child access to routine medical care within 50 miles of the child’s residence or less. For parents receiving a child support order for the first time, it is vital to be prepared to present the costs of healthcare coverage ahead of the process of calculation of child support payments. That way, the healthcare costs can be deducted from that parent’s gross income.
Can Parents Come Up With Their Own Child Support Order?
In California, the courts are required to follow the state’s guidelines when determining child support payment amounts and issuing child support orders. However, in certain situations, parents may be allowed to agree to a different amount (higher or lower than the amounts determined by the guidelines).
If both parents fully understand their child support rights and the guideline child support amount determined by the court, are not receiving any public assistance (and have not applied for it), are entering the agreement without being pressured or coerced, and agree to a support amount that will fulfill the needs of the child and be in the child’s best interest, then they may write up an agreement for an alternative support amount and submit it to the judge for approval.
What Happens if the Noncustodial Parent Fails to Make Child Support Payments?
Falling behind on child support payments can have severe consequences in California. Regardless of whether the noncustodial parent is paying a lesser amount than determined by your child support order or has failed to make one or more payments, the paying parent will be subject to interest in addition to any amount owed. The interest is set at 10% per year and continues to accrue until the parent can catch up on all late payments.
If a parent is behind on child support and already has a wage garnishment, the court may order the amount withheld from that parent’s paycheck to be increased in order to make up for late payments. If that parent has an obligation to provide healthcare insurance but has failed to do so, the wage garnishment can also include the cost of insurance.
There are also more serious consequences – especially for parents who have the resources to pay child support but are willfully not paying it – such as the placement of a property lien on any personal or real property owned by the noncustodial parent. In addition, their tax refunds could be denied and used to pay child support debt, and the California DMV may even suspend the driver’s license of the parent who owes child support. That parent may have hunting and boating licenses denied, and in some cases, their passport can be revoked. If none of these actions resolve the problem, the parent who owes child support may face civil charges for contempt of court, which may result in fines and even jail time. As a last resource, the state can also file a criminal warrant for a parent who is severely behind paying child support, and the warrant is enforceable anywhere in the country and could lead to fines and jail time.
If you are struggling to make your child support payments on time due to a change in your employment or life circumstances, it is best to speak to a child support attorney as soon as possible so you can ask the court for a modification or negotiate a payment plan to catch up on child support debt. Simply ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away is not a sensible strategy and can result in serious consequences, so it is best not to let your child support debt accrue and take action immediately if you are having problems.
How Can I Get Help Enforcing a Child Support Order?
The Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) is responsible for overseeing the child support services for the state and enforcing or modifying child support orders through their local child support agencies (LCSA) located in every county. In order to seek enforcement of child support payments, the parent requesting enforcement must file a petition, which is a written request to the court asking them to hold the non-paying parent in contempt. Please note that there is a time limit to file an action against the delinquent parent, as each petition only allows a parent to receive past-due child support payments for the past three years.
After the petition has been filed, the court may schedule a hearing to determine if the non-paying parent is withholding payments and knowingly refusing to pay. If that is determined to be true, the judge can issue one or more penalties, as explained above. Any income earned by that parent may be ordered to be used for child support. Even when a child turns 18 and child support payments end, any past-due child support debt does not go away until it is paid in full.
If you need help enforcing a child support order or are struggling to make support payments on time, reach out to a family law attorney at Khosroabadi & Hill as soon as possible. We can help you understand your options and protect your interests. Call our San Diego office at 858-240-2093 and request to schedule an initial consultation to discuss your case and see how we can help you.