Child Support
Kids come first.

How much child support will I receive? How much will I have to pay?

California’s child support guideline is a complicated algebraic formula that is impossible to understand unless you are an engineer or a mathematician. The algebraic formula is found in Family Code Section 4055. The calculations of child support are so complicated that judges and attorneys use special computer software programs, which are updated each year to reflect changes in the tax law.

The guideline formula is based upon the income of each parent, and the child-sharing percentage. It starts with gross monthly income, and the program calculates payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare, as well as State Disability Insurance), and also calculates federal and state income taxes based on the parent’s correct federal tax withholding status. The taxes that are deducted may be different from income tax withholding on the parent’s paycheck. Other allowable deductions are for health insurance for the parent and children, and for mandatory retirement (for government employees). If a parent owns a house, the income is also adjusted to reflect the deduction of mortgage interest and property taxes.

Our office has the software programs that are used by the California courts to calculate child support. When you meet with Nancy Stassinopoulos for an initial consultation, an estimate can be provided as to how much you will receive or pay in child support.

If we share custody equally, does that mean there won’t be any child support?

No, because the California child support formula is based upon the incomes of both parents, not just on the child-sharing percentage. The higher earning parent will have to pay child support to the lower earning parent, even with 50/50 custody.

Can parents agree to child support that is lower than the guideline?

Yes, but California law requires that both parents state in writing that they are not receiving public assistance, that they have agreed to the amount of child support without coercion or duress, and that the needs of the children will be met.

How long does child support last?

In California, parents are required to pay child support for their children until age 18. However, if the child at age 18 is a full-time high school student, child support will continue until the child reaches age 19 or completes the 12th grade, whichever occurs first. Disabled adult children may be entitled to child support for a longer period of time.

Do parents have to pay for college?

The court in California cannot order parents to pay for a child’s college education. However, parents can choose to sign an agreement to pay college expenses.

What about health insurance for the child?

Usually, one parent will agree to continue to cover the children on his or her health insurance plan. If there is no agreement, the court in California can order a parent to provide health insurance coverage for the children if it is available through employment at a reasonable cost.

What about child care and medical expenses?

In addition to the basic child support, parents must share equally in the cost of child care that is necessary for employment, and also any uninsured medical, dental, vision, orthodontia and psychological expenses of the children. If one parent earns substantially more than the other, the cost of child care may be divided unequally, to reflect the ratio of their incomes.

How is child support paid?

California law requires that child support must be paid by wage assignment, by means of a special form called Income Withholding Order for Support. This is sometimes referred to as a garnishment. Parents can stay the mandatory wage assignment if they agree in writing to direct payment. A wage assignment is effective on an out-of-state employer, but not for someone who is self-employed. Child support is enforced by the California Department of Child Support Services.

What if a parent loses his or her job?

A parent who experiences a sudden drop in income due to a layoff must bring the matter back to court to obtain a modification of child support. Do not rely on the oral agreement of the other parent to accept reduced or no payments. All agreements for changes in child support must be in writing and signed by both parents.

My ex just got a promotion and a big raise. Can I get more child support?

The answer is probably yes. A substantial change in circumstances gives the court the power to modify child support. Children are entitled to share in the standard of living of their parents, so if one parent has a large increase in income, child support will normally be increased.

What if my ex dies while my children are still minors?

Social Security survivor benefits will be available for the children, if your ex paid into the Social Security system. By agreement or court order, the parent paying child support can be required to maintain life insurance as security for child support.


Have you received a letter from the Department of Child Support Services, asking for information about your income? Have you been served with court papers to appear for a hearing at DCSS? Are you a custodial parent who is required to appear at a child support hearing against the other parent who is resisting payment? If so, you need to know your legal rights and obligations.

The California Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) assists parents in establishing, modifying and enforcing orders for child support.

The custodial parent can request services from DCSS in the county in which he or she lives. This can be done before or after a proceeding is brought in Family Court for divorce or paternity. It can also be done when there is no Family Court case.

An unmarried custodial parent can get help from DCSS to establish paternity and to obtain an order for child support. However, DCSS does not get involved in child custody or visitation disputes. That requires a separate legal proceeding in Family Court.

If the parents were married but later separate, the custodial parent can get help from DCSS in obtaining an order for child support, without filing a divorce case in Family Court.

A custodial parent who is receiving welfare, which is called CalWORKS in California, will have a child support case automatically opened at the Local Child Support Agency (DCSS). DCSS will establish paternity, establish child support and collect child support payments.

If you are a noncustodial parent and have received papers from DCSS, you should obtain legal advice before you sign anything. You should not go to court without first obtaining legal advice from an attorney. The attorneys at DCSS are not there to advise you about your rights. Call the office of Nancy Stassinopoulos for a consultation.