As an experienced Long Beach family law attorney, I deal with child support issues on a daily basis. This post is the first in a series to provide you with the information needed to understand how the court will decide the issues in your Long Beach child support case. The issue of child support most frequently arises in a divorce action, but child support is also awardable in paternity actions under the Uniform Parentage Act and in public assistance reimbursement proceedings.
Whenever the support of a child is at issue, the court may order either or both parents to pay any amount necessary for the child’s support. Family Code §4001. Both parents are obligated to support their child who is unmarried and a full-time high school student who is not self-supporting until the child completes the 12th grade or attains age 19, whichever occurs first. Each parent is also obligated to support an adult child for whom support is authorized under Family Code §3910. Adult child support may be ordered for one who is incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means.
Family Code §§4050–4076 provide a statewide uniform guideline for making child support awards. The steps to be carried out by the court in each case in implementing the guideline are as follows:
- Calculating a formula amount that is rebuttably presumed to be the correct amount.
- Considering specified factors on which rebuttal of the presumption may be based and, when the presumption is rebutted, adjustment of the child support amount accordingly.
- Considering specified expenses related to child support and, when appropriate, increasing the child support amount in light of such expenses.
- Making appropriate adjustments, if any, to accommodate seasonal or fluctuating income of either parent.
The statewide guideline provides a formula for a tentative child support amount in each case. That amount depends on (1) the parents’ respective net monthly disposable income; (2) the number of children for whom support is being determined; and (3) the parents’ respective periods of primary physical responsibility for the children. Once these factors are known, the formula amount is determined by inputting the applicable data and the use of a computer software program, most often “DissoMaster” which is used throughout California by the court and divorce attorneys.
The statewide guideline directs the court to calculate net monthly disposable income by ascertaining annual gross income, applying specified deductions to arrive at net annual disposable income, and diving by 12 to obtain the monthly figure. Family Code §§4059-4060. If the monthly figure does not accurately reflect the actual or prospective earnings of a party at the time the support determination is made, the court may adjust the amount appropriately. Family Code §4060.
Under the statewide guideline, gross income includes income from any source except income derived from (1) child support payments actually received or (2) any public assistance program for which eligibility is based on need. Family Code §4058(a), (c).
A factor to be decided before the guideline formula amount may be calculated is the approximate respective periods of time in which each parent has primary physical responsibility for the children. Although there is no universal approach in determining the approximate respective periods of primary physical responsibility, it appears that judges often look at the distribution of overnights between the parents. When parents have different time-sharing arrangements for different children, the approximate percentage of time with each parent, for purposes of the formula, is the average of the approximate percentages of time the parent spends with the individual children.
After the net monthly disposable income has been calculated for each parent, the formula in Family Code §4055(a)-(b) is applied. Basically, the formula assigns a percentage of the parents’ net monthly disposable income that is to be allocated for the children’s support and then arrives at the child support amount required so that the particular percentage of each parent’s income is contributed. Each parent is deemed (1) to be providing the required amount of support directly during the periods when he or she has primary physical responsibility for the children and (2) to owe the required amount of support to the other parent for the remaining periods. The respective amounts owed by each parent to the other are then, in effect, offset against one another, resulting in a single child support amount payable by one parent to the other.
Future posts will explore the intricacies involved in the establishment of child support including the determination of income for a party who works on commission, owns a small business or receives periodic bonuses. It is important to select a highly qualified Long Beach child support attorney to properly negotiate and, if necessary, litigate a fair child support award in your family law proceedings.