How Does the Court Decide How Much Child Support to Order?

How Does the Court Decide How Much Child Support to Order?

In the State of California, family court judges are obligated to make child support orders based upon the California Guideline Child Support formula.

Types of Child Support Orders

There are two types of child support orders: guideline child support orders and non-guideline child support orders.

Guideline Child Support Orders

If a judge is asked to make child support orders, the judge must use the guideline child support formula to determine the appropriate child support amount.

The guideline child support formula, which is found in Family Code Section 4055(a) is CS = K [HN – (H%) (TN)]. The components of this 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.

Regarding the parents’ income, the Court will use their “annual gross income.” Annual gross income is defined by Family Code §4058. Family Code §4058 states that income is from any source including, but not limited to, income such as commissions, salaries, royalties, wages, bonuses, rents, dividends, pensions, interest, trust income, annuities, workers’ compensation benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, disability insurance benefits, Social Security benefits, and spousal support actually received from a person not a party to the proceeding to establish a child support order. It also includes income from a business proprietorship, such as gross receipts from the business reduced by expenditures required for the operation of the business and, in the discretion of the court, employee benefits or self-employment benefits, taking into consideration the benefit to the employee, any corresponding reduction in living expenses, and other relevant fact.

Non-Guideline Child Support Orders

Non-guideline child support orders are support orders agreed upon by the parties that do not use the guideline child support formula. The key here is that the parties must agree to a non-guideline child support amount. A court may not make a non-guideline child support order on its own, but it will approve a parties agreement if the parties declare that they are informed of their rights concerning child support, the order is agreed to without coercion or duress, the agreement is in the best interests of the children involved, the needs of the children will be adequately met and the right to support has not been assigned to any county and no public assistance application is pending.

How to Request Child Support Orders

In the beginning of your family law case, if you want the Court to make orders related to child support, you will need to file a Request for Order (FL-300). A Request for Order is a motion that tells the Court that you want a hearing for the judge to make child support orders. Along with your Request for Order, you will have to complete an Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150).

After filing a Request for Order, the Court will give a court hearing date. The court hearing date is your date to meet with the judge, who will make your child support orders.

After the Court verbally makes its decision at the court hearing on child support orders, a Findings and Order After Hearing will be prepared by one of the attorneys. Once approved and signed by the Judge, the Findings and Order After Hearing will be the document you reference for your child support orders.

Need help with child support orders? Book a consultation with Happ Law Group P.C. today.

Earning Capacity / Earning Capacity

When a parent is unemployed or underemployed, the Court must determine whether child support should be based upon that parent’s earning capacity, as opposed to their actual earnings. Using a parent’s earning capacity is often referred to as “imputing income” to that parent.

The court may, in its discretion, consider the earning capacity of a parent in lieu of the parent’s actual income, consistent with the best interests of the child or children, taking into consideration the overall welfare and developmental needs of the children and the time that parent spends with the children.

It is proper to impute income to an unemployed or underemployed parent when the parent has the ability to work (taking into account factors such as age, occupation, skill, education, health, background, job experience, and qualifications) and an opportunity to work (an employer willing to hire). A court’s imputation of earned income must be based on actual evidence, not derived “from thin air.” Evidence supporting a parent’s ability to earn can include a parent’s resume, past earnings or vocational expert’s testimony. Evidence supporting a parent’s opportunity to earn include job postings for persons with qualifications similar to those of the parent, testimony from a vocational evaluator and pay scales correlating ability and opportunity with the income to be imputed.

Learn what the Court considers when making child support orders — schedule a consultation with our attorneys.

Obtaining More Information for Your Child Support Case

Discovery is a process of obtaining information for your case. This can include exchanging information between the parties or obtaining information from third parties. Discovery can be formal or informal.

Informal Discovery

Informal discovery is undertaken without using a formal discovery method, i.e., simply asking the other side or a third party for information to see if they will comply with the informal request. Sometimes when requesting informal discovery from third parties, the third party may require a written authorization from you, other party, or both.

With informal discovery requests there is generally no mechanism in which to order someone to comply with the informal discovery requests, so while this may be a useful tool, it may not be the most effective way to obtain information for your child support case.

Formal Discovery

Formal discovery is undertaken using methods available under the Code of Civil Procedure and sets forth deadlines for which a party or third party must produce the information request or appear. There are many different formal discovery requests and tools that you can use to assist you in your child support case. Speak with the attorneys at Happ Law Group P.C. to see what formal discovery requests may be most useful for your case.

With formal discovery requests there are mechanisms in which you may obtain an order from the Court to make the other party comply with the various discovery requests if they fail to do so initially. If you are forced to do this, you may also request attorney’s fees and costs payable by that party for your expenses in having to get a Court order for them to comply with the discovery request.

How Can Discovery Help Me in my Child Support Case?

In child support cases, occasionally one party may believe that the other party is not being truthful about their income. There are also instances where one party may believe the other party is not making reasonable efforts to find employment or become self-sustaining. In those cases, formal discovery can be a useful tool to uncover the facts pertaining to your child support case.

There are many helpful discovery tools to use in child support cases not only to obtain information from the other party, but also to obtain information about the other party from third parties.

Want to learn more about how discovery can help your child support case? Talk to the attorneys at Happ Law Group P.C.

Bottom Line

Child support is a complicated area of family law which requires specific expertise in California family law.

Learn more by scheduling a consultation with an attorney at Happ Law Group P.C.

FAQs

What is guideline child support?
Guideline child support is an algebraic formula used to calculate child support.

What is non-guideline child support? 
Non-guideline child support is child support that does not use the State of California’s guideline child support formula.

What is “annual gross income”? 
“Annual Gross Income” is income received from any source including, but not limited to, income such as commissions, salaries, royalties, wages, bonuses, rents, dividends, pensions, interest, trust income, annuities, workers’ compensation benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, disability insurance benefits, Social Security benefits, and spousal support actually received from a person not a party to the proceeding to establish a child support order. It also includes income from a business proprietorship, such as gross receipts from the business reduced by expenditures required for the operation of the business and, in the discretion of the court, employee benefits or self-employment benefits, taking into consideration the benefit to the employee, any corresponding reduction in living expenses, and other relevant fact.

What documents must I file to request child support? 
At a minimum, you must file a Request for Order (FL-300) and an Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150).

What if the other parent is unemployed? 
You could argue to the Court that the other parent should be “imputed” income based upon their earning capacity. To do so, you must present the Court with the appropriate evidence to show that the other parent has the ability to earn and the opportunity to work.

What if I need more information about the other parent for my child support request?
You could request the exchange of documents informally or you could issue formal discovery.

Read more frequently asked questions related to consulting, hiring, and being represented by a Certified Family Law Specialist for child custody here.

DISCLAIMER: This information is made available by Happ Law Group P.C. for educational purposes only as well as to provide general information and a general understanding of California law, not to provide specific legal advice. If you are in need of advice about your specific situation, you should consult with a California family law attorney.