The State of California requires biological or adoptive parents provide financial support for their children. This support is for the benefit of the child, and helps to alleviate expenses associated with child rearing. The California Department of Child Support Services oversees administration of child support for the state.
Child Support Laws in California
The California Child Support Handbook give details on California State laws regarding child support. These laws discuss how support is calculated, who receives and pays support, as well as laws about support modification and review.
Collecting Child Support
In many cases, a child support action is started as part of a divorce or custody action. If you don't currently receive child support and believe you are entitled to it, complete the following steps:
- Contact your Local Child Support Agency (LCSA) office.
- Download an application for services.
- You must mail or drop off the application at the LCSA.
- Within 20 days, the LCSA will open a case.
- The LCSA will contact both parents for interviews.
- The LCSA will complete and file the necessary paperwork with Family Court and serve the other party.
- The office will also calculate support based on standard calculations and the financial data you supply.
- If both parents agree, then the LCSA will submit the order to the court and, upon receiving an Order of Child Support, begin collecting from the payer.
- If parties do not agree, they will need to go to court and have their case heard before a Family Court judge or commissioner, who will determine child support and issue an order.
There is a $25 annual fee for LCSA services, unless the custodial parent receives Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Alternatively, parents may hire an attorney to initiate the process and file the necessary paperwork.
Who Can Collect Support
Certain parties may be entitled to child support, including:
- Parents with joint or sole physical custody
- Adults with third-party custody
- Parents with children in college, if ongoing education expenses have been agreed upon or court-ordered
Basic Support Calculations
Support payments are based on the income of both parents, physical custody, visitation, number of children, and any special considerations. California Family Code 4050 issues guidelines for this calculation. You can get an idea of support owed by visiting the California Child Support Calculator. You will be asked to supply the following information:
- Number of children
- Percentage of time child spends with each parent
- Federal income tax filing status
- Income and deductions for both parents
- Health insurance payment information
- Extraordinary health care expenses
The courts may order additional support beyond the basic support calculation in certain circumstances. Items that may factor into additional support include:
- Work-related child care expenses
- Non-covered medical expenses
- Extraordinary health care expenses
- Travel and visitation expenses
Modifying an Existing Order
Either parent can seek modification of an existing child support order under circumstances, including:
- Income changes for either parent
- Job loss
- The birth of subsequent children in new relationships
- Changes in custody or visitation
- Additional costs such as health care, day care, or educational expenses
To modify an existing child support order, contact an attorney or your LCSA.
Support Enforcement, Collection, and Distribution
The LCSA also provides collection, distribution, and enforcement services. The agency can help you locate a missing parent, establish paternity, or garnish wages to ensure child support is paid. Custodial parties can have payments made either via Direct Deposit or via a debit card. You can enroll for either payment option on the State Disbursement Unit (SDU) website.
Non-custodial parents can also streamline their payments on the SDU website, setting up recurring bank account withdrawals, as well as debit or credit card payments.
Children's Best Interests
Child support exists so children can continue their quality of life regardless of their parents' relationship. If you are entitled to child support, it is in your children's best interests to begin the child support process in order to fully support your children. If you are obligated to pay support, you are helping your children by providing for them financially, just as you would if you were still with their other parent.