Parents bear child support obligations regardless of whether or not they are married. If they are unmarried, then the support is determined under a Parentage action, formerly known in California as a "paternity" action. If the parties are married, then the support is determined under a "Dissolution of marriage" or Divorce action.
In California, child support is determined based upon many factors, including but not limited to, the income of the parties, the timeshare spent with their children, tax deductions available to each party, and the cost of healthcare and child care. All Courts and attorneys now utilize various software programs to determine child support based upon a statewide mandatory formula. These programs allow the input of the relevant data and then make the calculations to determine what the child support amount should be. Absent extraordinary circumstances, the Courts do not deviate from the statewide formula used to calculate child support. Currently, all California child support orders require that child support payments be made to the State Disbursement Unit, of the Department of Child Support Services, who will in turn ensure that the payments get sent to the recipients of support.
Parents are mutually obligated to support their children. However, individual circumstances may require one parent to work only part time, or not at all, depending upon the best interests of his or her children. Generally, this duty to support continues until each child graduates from high school or turns 19, whichever occurs first.
After the Court has ordered child support at any time during a proceeding, including both before and after entry of a final Judgment, if circumstances (income/timeshare/etc.) materially change, the Court may modify child support after a motion has been filed with the Court requesting a modification of child support. A party may also request once per year that the other parent produce a statement listing his or her income and expenses, and attach a copy of his or her last filed tax returns as well as his or her most recent pay check stubs or profit and loss schedule. Child support, like custody and visitation, is an issue that remains open even after the Judgment for divorce is entered, until the obligation to pay child support terminates.
If child support is not paid, it can accrue significant legal interest, which in California is at 10% per annum. Even more significant civil penalties are only available to the private litigant. Penalties accrue on unpaid child support once proper notice has been given, up to 6% of the delinquent payment for each month that child support remains unpaid, and up to a maximum of 72% of the original arrearage. Hence, penalties can be a significant charge against a delinquent payor. If the litigant selects to pursue public enforcement of a child support order using a local child support agency (known in California as the Department of Child Support Services) the delinquent payor could suffer the loss of his or her driver's license, passport, license to practice in certain professions, tax refunds, bank levies and many other significant consequences.
Because child support can be a landmine of legal issues, experienced legal representation is essential. For more information and a consultation with T. Elizabeth Fields please call (310) 860-7661.