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How Is Child Support is Calculated During a Divorce in California?

On Behalf of | Jun 29, 2021 | Child Support, Divorce

Child support is one of the most significant expenses a couple undergoing a divorce must face. Moreover, child support is potentially one of the main points of contention you may have with your partner.

Divorce and child support laws were created to set guidelines to support children and the parent caring for their children after a divorce. Any couple starting a divorce should consult with a San Diego family attorney before beginning the divorce process.

Family law attorneys generally provide more comprehensive services, including child support or custody. Some California divorce attorneys may only focus on the divorce process itself and property distribution, while others can handle divorce and family law issues.

Your California family attorney can provide more detailed explanations regarding child support and child custody, spousal alimony, and other relevant topics. More importantly, they can help draft a custody and child support agreement the judge would find acceptable.

California Laws on Divorce and Child Support

In San Diego, the courts follow a strict set of guidelines for determining child support. California divorce and child support laws are found in the California Family Code 4050 to 4076. The Statewide Child Support Guidelines can be found in section 4053.

Understanding Child Support Guidelines

The Statewide Child Support Guideline has two primary purposes. The first is to provide for and guarantee a minimum level of child support. The payments are supposed to help your child retain a comfortable standard of living even after your divorce.

The second is to establish a uniform calculation of child support. These guidelines help minimize disputes regarding the fairness or disagreements of child support payments between couples.

State judges are required by law to follow the guideline and its principles strictly to ensure that these two purposes are achieved. The guidelines require courts to follow a set of principles.

These principles include the following:

  •  Your and your partner’s first and most important obligation is to support your minor child or children, based on your personal circumstances. Both you and your partner are mutually responsible for helping your children.
  • The interests of your children are the state’s top priority.
  • Your and your partner’s actual income and level of responsibility are considered when calculating child support.
  • Whoever has primary physical responsibility or child custody of your child is presumed to contribute a more significant portion of available resources.
  • The guideline is presumed correct in all cases. Child support orders may only fall below the mandated formula in particular circumstances.

These principles help ensure a fair calculation and sufficient support until your child reaches the age of majority. California’s guidelines also become very important when deviating from standard procedures when considering particular circumstances.

Calculating California Child Support Payments

Several factors are taken into account when determining the child support dollar amount.

These include:

  • Your gross income
  • The time you spend with your child (in percentage)
  • Available tax deductions you can claim, like mortgage interest
  • Compulsory payroll deductions, including health insurance and pension
  • Any child care costs you and your partner may incur

You will need to have a copy of your most recent tax returns, tax forms, paycheck records, and other paperwork. These documents will let you compute your total child care costs, tax deductions, and other applicable benefits, such as disability or unemployment.

As the formula and computation can be highly complex, the states offer online child support calculators that you can use to get a clearer picture of your child support payments.

California has one such calculator. You need to put in the basic information outlined above and allow the child support calculator to generate the amount.

Standard Formula for Child Support

If you want to compute your child support obligations yourself, the formula used by California courts is readily available.

The formula is: CS = K [HN – (H%) (TN)]

Here is a breakdown of how the child support formula works and definitions of each variable:

  • CS: This is the child support payment amount. Take note that this sum or amount will only apply to one child.
  • K: Refers to your and your partner’s combined income. This total income includes your monthly
    salary before taxes and any other source of money, such as commissions or bonuses.
  • HN: This stands for “high net” and refers to the total or net monthly disposable income of whoever is the higher-earning parent.
  • H%: This represents the estimated percentage of time spent by the higher-earning parent as the primary guardian. If you different estimated primary guardianship for other children, then the H% will be the average of each parent’s approximate time with each child.
  • TN: This value refers to your and your partner’s combined net monthly disposable income.

A more significant amount of child support is afforded to you if you spend more time as the primary guardian while earning significantly less than your spouse. The primary guardian receives more child support based on the income gap between you and your spouse and the time each parent expects to spend with a child after the divorce.

The guidelines and the formula exist to ensure that your child enjoys the same financial stability and standard of living as you and your partner.

Child Support Payment Changes Due to Special Circumstances

As per the California Family Code and Statewide Child Support Guidelines, the amount determined using the formula is presumed the correct amount.

However, following the standard child support formula and the resulting prescribed amount owed may be unfair for either you or your partner in certain circumstances. For such cases, the court has the power to allow for appropriate adjustments.

Naturally, these adjustments will still follow the Statewide Child Support Guideline and its principles.

Deviations from the prescribed amount of child support may be accepted based on several factors. A judge may order you or your partner to provide higher or lower child support payments than the guideline amount.

California guidelines allow for these factors when deviating from the standard guidelines:

  • The amount calculated using the formula is more significant than your child’s needs, as either you or your partner has an extremely high income.
  • Your child has medical or other special needs that require more monetary support.
  • Either you or your partner is not addressing your child’s needs at a level equal to your guardianship or custodial time.
  • You and your partner have different time-sharing or custodial arrangements for multiple children.

Joint vs. Sole Physical Custody

In joint custody cases, the child support would automatically be calculated using the guideline formula. However, if you have sole physical custody of your child, you would generally be the one to receive child support.

Consideration for Spousal Support

If you are paying for spousal support or alimony, the courts will subtract the amount you are paying from your gross income. This amount would then be added to the gross income of your receiving partner when calculating for child support using the guideline formula.


California child support payment calculation is complicated because the law wants to ensure that your child has a high standard of living. As such, once you receive child support, you can use these payments for house rent and other bills that may improve your child or children’s overall quality of life.

If you and your spouse are considering or undergoing divorce proceedings, make sure you seek assistance from a California divorce or California family attorney. They will help ensure the process is as smooth and painless as can be — not only for you and your spouse but also for your children.

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