Child support

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. 

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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 on 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.

The duty to pay support typically ends when a child turns 18 and graduates high school

If they’re still in high school full-time and cannot support themselves, the duty ends when they graduate or turn 19, whichever happens first.

The duty also ends when a child gets married, enters a domestic partnership, joins the military, is emancipated, or dies.

The duty can continue after a child turns 18 (or 19) if the child is disabled and can’t support themselves or if the parents agree for support to continue.

How the court calculates 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

How to get or change a child support order

If you need an order and don't already have one

What you need to file and the steps you need to take depend on whether you already have a family law case in California (like a divorce or parentage case) involving the child. If you don't, you need to start one. If you do already have a case, you can file papers in that case asking a judge to decide support or to make an agreement between you and the other parent an order.

The steps you take and the forms you need will also be different if you want the Local Child Support Agency (LCSA) to be part of your case, or if they already are. The LCSA, sometimes called the Department of Child Support, helps to make sure that children get enough support. 

Find out what forms to file

If you have an order and need to change it

You can ask the judge to change support 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 and the other parent don't agree about the change, you can file a Request for Order (form FL-300) to ask to change the order. If you and the other parent agree on the change, you can turn in a written agreement for the judge to sign.

If you have an LCSA child support case (a government child support case), there are different instructions to ask to change the order.  They will also need to approve any agreement to change support.

How do I know if the LCSA is part of my case? Learn more

How you get help or change your child support order is different if the local child support agency (LCSA) is involved in your case.

The LCSA will be part of your case if one of the parents:

  • Is getting money from the government for your children, or
  • Asks for their help                                                   

One way to tell if the LCSA is involved in your case is if the County is listed as one of the parties. For example County of San Diego v. John Doe

If you aren’t sure if the LCSA is involved, call the Child Support Customer Connect line to find out: 866-901-3212.

If your duty to pay support ended (for example, your child turned 18 and graduated high school), you can stop support payments from being taken from your paycheck.

If you need to change the 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.

Where to get free help

The Local Child Support Agency 

The Local Child Support Agency (LCSA) 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 

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

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 

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 

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