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How is the amount of child support determined in California?

Meeting a child's financial needs is one of the most important duties of any noncustodial parent in California. In many cases, the parent who was awarded custody may not earn enough to support the person's biological children, so child support payments are critical to making sure children's needs are met. But, a parent who is required to pay support may wonder how it is determined.

State laws have established a formula that is supposed to allow judges to set child-support payments on facts rather than forcing them to make arbitrary decisions or accept the interpretations of ex-spouses or their attorneys.

Generally, courts look at the income of both parents, any other available assets and their monthly and annual expenditures. Thus, even if a parent is not employed and has no salary or wages, any inherited property the parent might have will be factored into the child-support calculation.

Courts also look into how much disposable income each parent might have. This income is the amount that a parent has to meet desired and even necessary purchases after various statutory and tax deductions from the parent's salary or wages. Computation of disposable income is crucial in cases in which the noncustodial parent has considerable debt and financial obligations, including child-support payments to other children.

Any spouse who believes the court-ordered amount is too high or too low can argue the case directly before a judge or secure the services of a legal professional who can make the argument on the person's behalf.

Source: California Department of Child Support Services, "California guideline child support calculator," Accessed on May 29, 2015

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