What to know about child support

Child support basics

By law, both parents must support their children 

Parents must share the financial responsibility for raising their children. Sometimes parents can agree about how to share this responsibility without going to court. If you and the other parent can’t agree, you can ask the court for a child support order.

Child support is the amount of money that a court tells a parent to pay every month. This money is to help pay for the children’s living expenses. Usually, child support is paid to the person primarily caring for the children. But, there may be exceptions based on how much each parent earns.

A child support order will say how the parents share the financial responsibility. It can also require an employer to deduct the support directly from a paycheck. 

If you want a child support order, you must get the court involved. You can ask for child support in different kinds of cases: 

If you don’t already have a case open, you will need to start a case. 

A child support order can be an agreement or a decision by the judge

If the parents agree on how much child support should be paid, they can give the agreement to the judge to approve. If the parents can’t agree, the judge will decide on the amount of child support at a court hearing.

How does the court calculate child support?

Courts use the California “guideline”

The guideline looks at:

  • How much money each parent makes
  • How they file taxes

  • How much time they spend with the children

  • Other factors

There is a free online child support calculator that figures out how much support a parent needs to pay. 

Child Support Calculator

Changing child support

Once you have a support order, you can ask the court to change it if your situation changes

You can ask the judge to change your support order if things changed since the last order, like:

  • You are now making less money 

  • The other parent is now making more money 

  • You are now spending more time with your children 

If you need to change your child support order, don’t wait 

A judge can only change the support amount as far back as the day you filed papers asking for a change.  The judge can’t make any changes to the amount before that day. 

  • EXAMPLE: What happens if you wait
    • You lost your job on March 1 
    • You file a request with the court on July 1 

    By law, the judge can only change how much you owe starting July 1. The judge can’t change what you owed in March – June, even though you lost your job in March.

Getting help

The local child support agency might be part of your case or you can ask them to become involved 

The local child support agency makes sure the children get enough support. In some counties, their name is the Department of Child Support Services. 

 They may become involved in your case if either: 

  • You or your child’s other parent receives cash aid for the children 

  • One of you asked for their help 

If they are part of your case, they:

  • Can help you and the other parent reach an agreement 

  • Must approve any agreement you make with your child’s other parent 

  • Can also help either parent change the child support order in court if there has been a change 

  • Will be in charge of collecting child support 

A lawyer from their agency will go to court for any hearings you have about child support. The local child support agency is not the attorney for either parent.   

Free help is available in every county 

The Family Law Facilitator in your county

  • Can give you information 

  • Help you calculate guideline child support 

  • Help you fill out forms 

  • Tell you about the court process