The first question any client asks an Orange County child support lawyer is “how much will my child support be?” Makes sense, right? Whether you are the one who expects to receive child support or may be paying, the bottom line is simple – “how much?”
Unfortunately, the answer to that question can be complex depending on two primary factors: (1) how much time does each parent spend with the child or children and (2) what is each parent’s income. Let’s break down how these factors and other less significant ones play into a “guideline” child support order.
How is child support calculated?
Child support, similar to temporary alimony orders, are based on a computer program.
In Orange County and most counties in California, the computer programs most often used are dissomaster or x-spouse. Your child support lawyer inputs various factors into the program to determine what “guideline” (presumed correct) child support should be.
These factors include the number of children, the timeshare percentage each parent spends with the children, the number of exemptions each parent claims, the income of each parent, health insurance deductions for each parent, mandatory retirement deductions, itemized deductions including but not limited to mortgage interest deductions and property tax, work related child care costs, certain specific hardship deductions as well as others.
Once all of the factors are inputted, the computer program then provides a proposed child support order that the Family Court judge will generally adopt and order.
What Role Does Custody Play When Calculating Child Support?
The timeshare with the child or children is the most important factor when determining child support. In fact, if the time share of one parent is minimal (less than 10%), the income of the custodial parent (the one with the greater time with the children) becomes almost insignificant to the child support calculations.
Before you dive into a contentious child support case, taking the time to consult with an experience child support lawyer like those at our firm will give you the variation in child support between your position and that of the other parent. When you know what the disputed amount is, it becomes much easier to resolve a child support case or, if settlement is not possible, know what you’re fighting for.
What happens when one parent is being dishonest about his or her income?
Each parent must complete under penalty of perjury an income and expense declaration form and attach proof of his or her income. Once again, the experience of the child support attorney you hire becomes important.
Some parents struggle with this form and put down information that they think is correct but is not. Our attorneys don’t simply hand an income and expense declaration to a client, ask them to fill it out and then don’t review it with them. We read it. When something doesn’t look right or consistent with what we know of the facts and what our client has told us, we ask questions. We do our best to make sure you have completed the income and expense declaration correctly. Now, no amount of effort by us will catch mistakes or misrepresentations and self-employed spouses must be especially careful because they often go through a process of evaluating their “controllable cash flow” for support purposes.
Regardless, accuracy is critical in completing any family law form.
Failure to complete an income and expense declaration could result in serious monetary sanctions against the parent that refused to comply. If a parent completes the form but is not being truthful about his or her income, the child support lawyer should conduct formal discovery to determine the true nature and extent of the income. If a parent proves that the other was dishonest about his or her income, the Family Court will not only award child support consistent with the proved income but has the discretion to significantly sanction the violating parent by awarding attorney’s fees against him or her.
What happens when one parent claims a zero income and refuses to go to work?
In such situations, the working parent can request an order for a formal vocational evaluation that requires the non-working parent to submit to testing and a vocational evaluation that determines whether or not he or she has the ability and opportunity for employment and to what extent. If the court-appointed vocational evaluator makes such a recommendation to the Court and the Court adopts it, the judge has the discretion to impute income to the non-working parent and adjust child support accordingly.
Are California child support orders modifiable?
Child support orders are modifiable at any time but orders that are guideline or above guideline can only be modified upon a showing of a significant change of circumstances, a fact that escapes many lawyers who file first and ask questions later. When you hire our law firm, your child support lawyer takes the time to look at the order that you or the parent seeks to modify and compares the present factors with those that the Court used for the prior order.
This is a critical aspect of any child support modification proceeding. Failure to conduct a detailed review of the prior order and the support factors with the present ones is a mistake we see a parent and his or her child support lawyer make.
The two most common types of change occur when the timeshare with the children has changed (one parent has more or less time with the children as initially ordered) or one parent’s income and significantly changed, up or down. You may be surprised to know that alimony has a direction relationship to child support.
Absent very limited exceptions, a child support order can only be modified by a subsequent order. Parents should not rely on verbal or non-court ordered modifications to child support. Such reliance often causes unpleasant surprises later on when the other parent denies there was ever such an agreement or claims the agreement was not enforceable.
Want more information about child support?
First, check out our very detailed and comprehensive guide on California child support laws.
We have also written a FAQ child support page you may enjoy.
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