Settling matters relating to child and spousal support can be the most stressful and contentious aspects of divorce. Both sides want to ensure that they get what is due to them and, in many cases, neither side is willing to give an inch, leading to a great deal of argument and resentment. Thankfully, there are legal guidelines in place to ensure that an equitable arrangement is reached. The help of a family law attorney can ensure that both parties understand their rights and obligations. With the right legal advice, both parties can get their dues, while also complying with what is legally required of them. Westover Law has compiled a list of the most commonly asked questions about child and spousal support in California, together with concise answers to help give you a better understanding of this rather thorny terrain.

What every parent should know about child support

Let’s start at the basics: what exactly is child support? When we talk about child support, we are referring to a court-ordered payment that divorcing parents must adhere to in order to ensure their children’s living expenses are covered. California law lays out very specific guidelines to determine how much parents need to pay. Courts take a number of factors into account when working out child support requirements. These include the earnings of the two parents, the number of children, and the percentage of time that each parent spends with the children. These factors are worked into a computer-generated formula to calculate the amounts that parents must pay.

What does child support in California cover?

There are many costs involved with raising a child, and custodial parents may wish to include as many of these in their child support as they possibly can. However, the law is very specific about what child support payments cover. Only ordinary living expenses are to be included in child support. These include food, housing, clothing, and standard educational needs. Medical bills, travel expenses, any special educational needs, and all other requirements over and above ordinary living expenses, are not considered when calculating child support.

Is it possible to reach an agreement that no child support will be paid?

Child support is generally considered mandatory. Even if the two spouses reach an agreement that no child support should be paid, the court will have the final say as to whether this will be the case. The welfare of the child is always the priority in these matters, and the court will consider the proposed agreement with this in mind. Any agreement on the waiving of child support will prompt close scrutiny by the judge. If the court determines that such an agreement will not meet the needs of the child, it will not be permitted.

What to do if you cannot afford your child support payments

When the courts calculate child support payments, the income of both parents is taken into account in an attempt to agree on an amount that is proportional to the caregivers’ earnings. However, if the parent paying child support has a change in circumstances, such as job loss or pay cuts, it is possible to request a modification of your payment obligations. It is essential that you communicate your change in income immediately to the authorities. The first thing to do is visit the California Department of Child Support Services’ website and find your nearest agency. Then, report to that agency and inform them of your changing situation. You will need to provide details about your new circumstances, together with documentary proof. You will also have to fill in an Income and Expense Declaration. If you are able to produce all the required documentation, the chances are very high that your payment will be adjusted. Another option is to file an appeal with the court for a modification of your support order.

What if my ex-spouse stops paying child support? Can I deny access to the children?

There is no legal basis to deny your ex-spouse access to your children as a result of unpaid child support. Custody and child support are two separate matters. If your ex-spouse stops paying child support, you will need to take legal action to get what is owed to your children, but you cannot stop the other parent from enjoying whatever custody or visitation rights have been awarded to them by the courts or by mutual agreement – except if factors such as neglect or abuse are involved.

A breakdown of the child support formula In California

The California Family Code Section 4055 (a) sets out the guideline formula for calculating child support as follows:

Child Support Amount = K [HN – (H%) (TN)], where K= a factor of both parents’ income set aside for child support, HN represents the high earner’s net monthly disposable income, H% is the percentage of time the high earner has to spend with the children relative to the other parent, and TN is the total net monthly disposable income of both parents. The calculation is complicated, so the State of California provides an online child support calculator.

Spousal support according to the state of California

Unlike child support, spousal support is not mandatory in the state of California. Courts have far greater discretion when it comes to granting or denying spousal support awards. The court examines each party’s circumstances in accordance with California Family Code Section 4320. It considers the standard of living established during the marriage and the individual needs of each party as well as the ability of each to maintain that standard. While the court considers fourteen mandatory factors in their deliberations, the final decision is more or less at its discretion. These factors include the respective abilities of each party to maintain their standards of living, the duration of the marriage, the health and age of each party, and the extent to which the one spouse supported the other financially during the marriage, among others.

What qualifies you for spousal support in California?

Whether or not spousal support is awarded will depend on the court’s decision after reviewing the mandatory factors mentioned above. It is a complicated calculation, but the court’s decision ultimately depends on how well a spousal partner is equipped to maintain themselves after a divorce is finalized. For example, a non-working partner, who has relied on the other partner for financial support, and who may have limited means to acquire work and maintain themselves, is likely to be granted spousal support. In a case where both partners have some level of financial independence in their own right – even to differing degrees – the decision becomes a little more complicated.

For how long will you have to pay spousal support?

The duration of your spousal support obligation is as fluid and variable as all other aspects of the calculation. The court will consider a broad range of factors in determining how long you will need to pay. For marriages longer than ten years, the court retains jurisdiction to order spousal support in perpetuity. However, the payor may request for this power to be terminated later on, and the two parties can also agree on a limitation of this power. In the case of marriages that have lasted for less than ten years, there is a presumption that spousal support will be paid for one-half the total length of the marriage. This presumption is rebuttable.

Does child support affect your spousal support?

Child support and spousal support are two separate issues, and the court considers them as such. The calculation and awarding of one will not affect the other in any way. Child support is an obligation to your child and, while the amount you owe may vary, depending on the circumstances, the obligation itself is non-negotiable. Spousal support, on the other hand, may or may not be awarded and the law is more flexible in terms of its enforcement.

Is spousal support considered an income in California?

Yes. If you receive spousal support in California, you must report it as income on your tax return. As the recipient of such payments, you may be taxed on the amounts you receive. If you are the person paying the spousal support, the amount you pay may be tax deductible.

Can a family law decision be appealed?

Under certain circumstances, a decision or judgment may be appealed. If you feel a decision was made in error, contact our office to have your case reviewed. Andrew Westover is a very experienced appellate attorney in California. Please visit our Appeals page for more information.

About Westover Law

Westover Law is a well-established firm of family law attorneys based in Murrieta, CA. We advise and represent clients throughout southern California. The firm was founded by Andrew L. Westover, a certified family law specialist. Attorney Westover leads a team of knowledgeable and accomplished family law attorneys who counsel and fight for you through even the most complex divorce case, child custody matter, family law appeal or any other family law case.

Westover Law’s experienced family law attorneys can guide you through your rights and obligations with respect to child and spousal support in California. Contact us to book a consultation to discuss your case.