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How do courts calculate child support?
WRITTEN BY :   Steve Lopez, Law Offices of Steve Lopez

Both patents have a legal duty to provide financial support for their child. The court may order one or both parents to make regular payments to cover the child’s living and medical expenses. This payment is called child support.
California child support laws dictate how much child support will be paid to the parent that the child lives with. Child support laws in California are similar to those in other states, however, each state has its differences, and California child support laws are no exception. One thing which California has in common with all other states is that they do not take lightly failure to pay child support once there is a court order.
According to the Federal Child Support Enforcement Act, each state has developed guidelines to calculate a range of child support to be paid, based on the parents’ respective incomes and expenses. These guidelines vary considerably from state to state, which means that in virtually identical situations the child support ordered in one state may be far more or less than that ordered in another state.
Some states allow their judges considerable leeway in setting the actual amount, as long as the general state guidelines are followed. Others have very strict guidelines that leave the judges very little leeway.
Regardless of how much latitude judges are given, the guidelines in effect in most states specify factors that must be considered in determining who pays how much child support. These factors usually include:
•the needs of the child — including health insurance, education, day care, and special needs
•the income and needs of the parent which the child lives with, and
•the paying parent’s ability to pay.
In California, child support is determined using guidelines established in the state law. Child support guidelines are based on factors mentioned above, including monthly net income of both parents and the amount of time the child spends with each parent.
The court reviews child support agreements to make sure the guidelines are applied correctly and the child support amounts are appropriate. In some specific cases, the court may decide not to use the income guidelines to determine the amount of child support.
To determine the parent’s income the court requires each parent to fill out and submit to the court an income and expense declaration. The income and expense declaration is a official court form that is four pages long and includes information such a gross monthly income, educational background, employment history and monthly expenses.
The court takes the number from the income and expense declaration and plugs it in to an algebraic formula.
The algebraic formula for calculating guideline child support is found in California law. The amount of child support determined by the formula is presumed to be the correct amount of child support to be ordered. However, in child support cases, the court is not just supposed to punch numbers into a computer and award the parties the computer’s result without considering circumstances in a particular case, which would make that order unjust or unfair. In California, the court has the ability to exercise discretion to achieve fairness.
Before a court can exercise any discretion, it must calculate child support based on the following guideline formula: CS = K [HN - (H%) (TN)]. The components of the formula are
•CS = child support amount;
•K = amount of both parents’ income to be allocated for child support
•HN = high earner’s net monthly disposable income;
•H% = the approximate percentage of time that the high earner has or will have primary physical responsibility for the children compared to the other parent; in cases in which the parents have different time-sharing arrangements for different children, H% equals the average of the approximate percentages of time the high earner parent spends with each child; and
•TN = total net monthly disposable income of both parties.
If you can’t recall your high school algebra don’t be alarmed, there are many calculators online that will do the calculation for you, one such calculator can be found by going to the website cse.ca.gov/ChildSupport/cse/guidelineCalculator.
And remember, your child’s financial needs are solely the responsibility of you and your partner. Arming yourself with how child support is calculated will educate you and your partner in the process and will hopefully lessen the frustrations that usually accompany such proceedings.
The purpose of this column is to provide general information on the law, which is subject to change. It is not legal advice. Consult a lawyer if you have a specific legal problem.

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Published: August 25, 2011 – Volume 10 – Issue 19



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