California Child Support Overview

The good news about computing California child support is that it is not as complicated as it might seem. The Judicial Council has approved the use of child support calculation software such as Dissomaster. The California child support guideline takes into account the relative incomes of the parties and timeshare each parent has with the child(ren).

The following is a brief overview of how child support is calculated and the factors the court takes into consideration when determining income for guideline child support.

Both mothers and fathers share equal responsibility to provide for the child. Under Family Code 3901 that obligation continues until the child who isn’t self supporting ends full-time high school or turns 19, whichever occurs first.

Father Hugging his Child - Child Support Graphic

Amount of Child Support Award

California family courts follow standard state guidelines for child support. In most situations, the calculation of child support is based on the incomes of both parents and the amount of time the child spends at each residence. Time share is the percentage of time that a parent has primary physical responsibility for the child.

Calculating Income for California Child Support

California statutes detail what income the Court considers in setting guideline child support. Income includes: salaries, commissions, wages, bonuses, trust income, annuities, royalties, rents, worker’s comp, unemployment, disability insurance benefits, spousal support from another case, and social security. Family Code 4058.

Courts may adjust for seasonal or fluctuating income. Family Code 4064

Case law clarifies whether the court may consider certain items as part of income available for guideline child support. The following cases address commonly asked questions. Cases are cited without legal citations.

  • Deferred salary should be included in child support calculation. BERGER
  • Income value of rent-free housing and meal allowance. STEWART
  • Court treated as “income” for purposes of computing child support a disabled parent’s receipt of free housing on an Indian reservation.
  • Income includes rent subsidy and free car to the extent they are employee benefits. SCHULZE
  • One time inheritance not counted as income, but debt reduction and standard of living considered. CASTLE
  • Gifts not necessarily excluded from child support calculation. ALTER
  • Mother provided recurring gifts to her son to pay expenses. Gifts could be included as income for the purpose of calculating child support.
  • An unallocated lump sum personal injury recovery is not income, but the court has discretion to do a partial allocation based on sufficient supporting evidence. HEINER
  • Unexercised stock options are income. KERR, CHERITON
  • Unrealized value of stock shares is not income. PEARLSTEIN
  • Student loans are not income. ROCHA

Deviating from Guidelines for California Child Support

The court has the discretion to vary from the guidelines if a child’s needs or the resources or situation of a parent are exceptional (as in high-earner situations). The court may take into consideration a party’s earning capacity consistent with a child’s best interests. Family Code 4058(b).

Child Support “Add-Ons”

By statute, the Court can address child support add-ons such as child care costs, reasonable uninsured health care costs, educational needs and travel expenses. Family Code 4062

The above statutes and cases are provided for general educational purposes and are not intended as specific legal advice for any particular case.