When you hear the term child support, how would you describe it? Generally, when a noncustodial parent offers financial help to the custodial parent — the parent primarily raising a child — this form of monetary assistance can be considered child support. Child support payments can help the custodial parent with the costs of raising a child. These payments cover basic living necessities — food, shelter, and clothing — and many other expenses associated with raising a child, such as medical care and education.
The law requires a noncustodial parent to pay a fair share of income for child support. If a child support order is in place, the state may compel the noncustodial parent to pay for child support. Since each state handles child support payments differently, discover what you need to know about how Los Angeles County handles child support.
Who has to pay child support?
Child custody can be a perplexing concept, but the information presented here can help you understand child support better. Custody concerns the parent, parents, or other people who act as a child's legal guardians. In some custody arrangements, one parent has custody of a child and provides for that child's physical and financial needs. To help with the costs of raising that child, the noncustodial parent becomes legally obligated to make child support payments to the custodial parent.
Only people determined to be a child's parent have to pay child support. When you're trying to show your claim as a parent to a child, you're establishing paternity, and you can prove paternity in several ways.
Determine first whether the child's parents remain unmarried. If so, one parent may sign a voluntary declaration of paternity. If both child's parents are married, one can presume the child is the offspring of the mother's husband. The husband, however, can challenge that idea and ask for a paternity test. The mother can ask for tests as well, but, in California, both the presumed father and the mother have only two years after the child's birth to file a motion to ask for paternity testing.
What happens if both parents aren't married? One of the parents can ask for a paternity test to prove parentage. If the father disputes paternity, the mother would need to file a paternity case to settle the issue of parentage before she would be able to get a child support order against the father.
Who doesn't have to pay support?
California law requires parents to pay child support until the child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever event comes later. Given that law, a parent may have to pay child support until the child turns 19 if the child remains unmarried and still attends high school. Generally speaking, however, child support obligations end when the child comes of age or marries, whichever event happens first.
Stepparents do not have to pay child support for a new spouse's natural children in most cases. Keep in mind, however, that a parent's remarriage may be considered a significant financial change that affects the parent's child support award or obligation. For example, if a parent marries a wealthy spouse who owns a home, that parent's living expenses may diminish and impact how much the parent should pay or receive in child support.
Can you avoid paying child support?
A child support order is a judicial order, i.e. a directive from a judge. It is not okay to disobey, or fail to abide by, a judicial order, regardless of your feeling about its fairness. While you cannot refuse to make support payments, you may have the option of seeking an adjustment in the amount of money you're required to provide to your child's mother or father in the future. Further, you may be able to work with your local government in an attempt to make an amends for delinquent payments.
How does California calculate child support?
Each state has its own formula for calculating child support based on the parent's income, the child's needs, and other factors. In California, the child support formula includes the following criteria:
- Income and earnings of each parent
- Amount of time each parent spends taking care of the child. California uses a timeshare model that requires you to estimate the percentage of time you spend with the child. The state has a helpful timeshare visitation chart that can help parents calculate the child support they will pay or receive.
- Financial needs of the child
- Amount of money needed to sustain the child's current standard of living
Note that these factors are only guidelines for judges to consider. The court has the final authority to decide the proper amount of child support at its discretion.
Starting a child support case?
The first step to receiving child support is filing an application for child support services with the Los Angeles County Child Support Services Department, CSSD. The department's services include helping you find a parent; prove paternity; create, modify, or enforce a child support order; and create, change, or enforce an order for health insurance coverage.
You can complete the child support services packet online or in person at the Los Angeles County CSSD. Note that if you already receive CalWORKs, a type of welfare program for needy families, the state automatically refers your case to the county for child support services.
Getting family law legal help
Californians representing themselves in family law matters can consult with Los Angeles County's family law facilitator. The facilitator offers free legal education and information to help you complete the necessary paperwork and pursue your child support case successfully.
While the family law facilitators offer general guidance, they cannot give legal advice and are not bound by attorney-client privilege. Any information you share with them is not protected under the same rules of attorney-client confidentiality.
If you expect complications with your family law case, such as difficulty finding the other parent or estimating that parent's income accurately, you may need to consult with a family law attorney. Likewise, if you are the parent being asked to pay for child support, your financial situation stands to change greatly with a child support order. At the very least, consulting with an attorney before you arrive for court can be a wise investment.
Understanding child support hearings
A child support commissioner hears child support cases in Los Angeles County. The state Supreme Court appoints this commissioner, who serves as a temporary judge presiding over requests for and modifications for child support orders. If you and the other parent have attorneys, they will attend these hearings along with a CSSD attorney. The CSSD attorney presents the commissioner with the issues and any other relevant information, but this attorney doesn't represent either party.
The commissioner will likely ask each party questions about income, custody, and visitation, and attempt to do the following:
- Establish paternity
- Order medical support or transportation expenses for visitation
- Order the parties to split the cost of medical insurance and day care equally
How soon will your hearing take place after you file for child support services? The time depends on your case. Make sure you bring the following documents to court on the date of your hearing:
- Tax returns for the last two years and your last three pay stubs
- Proof of unemployment or disability benefits
- Proof of health insurance payments
- Proof of child care expenses
- Proof of visitation and time spent with the child
- Proof of living expenses
- Proof of any other children living with you
- Loan applications for the last two years
Cooperating with child support enforcement
Once one parent receives a child support order, the other parent can rely on California's Child Support Enforcement Program to help collect payments. If the other parent fails to pay child support, the agency may take any of the following actions:
- Withhold federal tax refunds
- Revoke professional licenses, such as a law or medical license
- Seize property
- Garnish wages
- Suspend a business license
- Revoke a driver's license
Since child support payments can substantially affect either parent's income, both parents should take the matter seriously. An attorney can help you both better navigate the process and present your case to the commissioner.