Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How does a judge decide a child support order?
A. In California, a mathematical “guideline” is used to calculate child support. The formula allocates financial resources of both parties to ensure that both parents contribute and can provide similarly for the children.
Q. What is child support intended to cover?
A. “Base” or “guideline” child support in California is intended to be the paying parent’s contribution to the children’s usual living expenses (housing, utilities, groceries, clothing, etc.). The parent who receives the child support determines how to spend it. A judge can also order additional amounts to cover health insurance coverage, child-care required for both parents to work, special educational or health needs of the children, etc.
Q. Who can be ordered to pay child support?
A. Either parent can be ordered to pay support to the other parent; who pays who, and how much depends on the custodial time-sharing arrangement, and the financial resources available to each parent.
Q. When can a child support order be changed?
California orders for child support can be changed when financial circumstances change. Since child support in California is calculated by mathematical “guideline” formula, if any of the factors that go into the formula changes appreciably, then the support amount may change.
If a parent loses a job, or changes to a higher-paying job, or if the amount of time the children spend with each parent changes, then either parent can ask the court to modify child support taking into account these changes. The parents can also agree to change support.
Q. How long must child support be paid?
A. In California, child support ends when a child reaches the age of 18, or is 19 and still attending high school whichever occurs later, unless the parents agree to extend it.
Q. What sorts of income are considered in setting child support?
A. California looks at all sources of income, taxed or untaxed, to determine child support. In some cases, the court may base a support order on a parent’s earning ability rather than that parent’s actual earnings. Also, the court may consider the parent’s assets available for investment in arriving at an appropriate amount of support.
Q. Can unpaid child support be collected after a child is no longer a minor?
A. In California, unpaid child support amounts owed can be collected regardless of the age of the children; there is no time limit in which the child support must be paid or collected. Unpaid child support will be owed until paid in full. Child support cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy and can be collected against the estate of the paying parent after his/her death.
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