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What do courts consider when deciding a child support case?

If you're the noncustodial parent of a child, California courts will require you to contribute money in the form of monthly payments to help care for your child. The amount of these child support payments will vary depending on you and your ex's financial situations.

Since child support payments can represent a significant financial burden, most noncustodial California parents will want to have an idea of how much child support they will be required to pay.

How do courts calculate your child support obligation?

In order to calculate your child support obligation, a California family law court will review the answers to the following questions:

Does your child have any special needs?

  • What normal financial needs does your child have in terms of daycare, education and health insurance?
  • What is the income of the custodial parent?
  • What are the financial needs and situation of the custodial parent?
  • What is the income of the paying parent? And what ability of the paying parent to pay child support?
  • What standard of living did the child enjoy prior to divorce and/or separation?
  • What should the court know about both parents' financial situations?
  • What percentage of child custody does each parent have?

There is no way to know with absolute accuracy how much money a parent will need to pay in child support. The only way to be certain what a court will decide is to litigate the matter and receive a decision by a California family court judge.

That said, California law offers guidelines that are clear enough to estimate fairly accurately how much a parent is likely to pay. In this respect, parents can often reach an out-of-court settlement regarding child support amounts to avoid the expense of costly litigation proceedings.

Your child support payments could change over time

As a final aside, parents who are receiving or paying child support should keep in mind that their child support calculations could be subject to change over time. For example, if the paying parent receives a substantial increase in salary, he or she may be required to pay more in child support. Similarly, if the paying parent suffers a substantial decrease in one financial condition, he or she might be permitted to pay less in child support. Parents may be able to request such a modification in child support after a significant change in their circumstances.

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