Under the law, a parent’s foremost duty is to support his or her minor children. Both parents share this responsibility.  It is not affected by the parents’ marital status or gender.  Adoptive parents also have the duty to support their adopted minor children, unless the birth parent(s) kept parental rights and duties despite adoption, which does not often happen. One of the most common questions we see when dealing with a child support case is “what is the child support calculator and how is it used?”  Below are the basic principles of the child support calculator and other important information to keep in mind in your child support case.

How is the child support calculator used?

The child support calculator runs an equation using the following factors to compute the monthly payment: net monthly disposable income of each parent; how much time each parent has primary physical responsibility of the child; and number of minor children between the parents.

The net monthly disposable income is the monthly income remaining once taxes and other mandatory expenses have been made.  Using net disposable income as a factor ensures a parent is able to pay child support.  Net monthly disposable income is the annual gross income (one’s total salary and bonuses) minus the following and divided by twelve:

·state and federal income taxes;

·Social Security and Medicaid contributions (“FICA”);

·health insurance premiums for parent and child;

·child support (for another child);

·spousal support;

·union dues and retirement benefits (where required for job e.g., teacher); and

·extreme hardship.

If an extreme hardship exists it is deducted from gross income only if requested through the court.  Extreme hardships include very high healthcare costs, large uninsured losses, and basic living expenses for children who live with the parent and are from other relationships.

The calculated figure is presumed accurate and may not be changed by the court to reflect what a parent thinks “it should be,” unless it is shown the calculated figure is “unjust and inappropriate.”  This standard can be tricky to prove, so it is important the figures entered into the child support calculator are correct.

Are other costs added to child support?

Yes.  The calculated child support serves as a base figure.  California requires childcare costs related to a parent’s work or working training be added to the child support figure and, where necessary, a child’s uninsured healthcare costs.  A child’s travel expenses and educational costs (private school tuition or special education) may also be added into the final figure, but neither are required.

How long must child support be paid?

Generally, a parent is required to pay child support until the child turns 18 years old.  Occasionally, the court may order it to continue beyond age 18, such as when the parents have agreed (and the court orders) child support to continue, when the child has special needs, or when the child is 18, unmarried and a full-time high-school student.  Child support may be terminated before the child turns 18 upon emancipation by judicial order, entering into a valid marriage, or active military duty.

When can child support be modified?

When a parent’s financial situation changes a great deal, he or she may file papers with the court requesting a child support modification.  Examples of such changes include:

  • increase or decrease in parent’s income affecting ability to pay child support;
  • parents’ previous agreement to child support below the calculated amount;
  • parent’s imprisonment and inability to pay child support;
  • noncustodial parent’s increased wealth;
  • military service activation or deployment; and
  • time spent with the child.

Parents can agree between themselves to adjust child support payments, but such an agreement would not affect the court’s child support order, which must be followed.  It is best to request the change through the court. Child support orders can be modified during the minor child’s minority by filing a Request for Order.