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.
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
There is a free online child support calculator that figures out how much support a parent needs to pay.
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.
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
Can give you information
Help you calculate guideline child support
Help you fill out forms
Tell you about the court process