Along with spousal support, child support is a contentious and anxiety-provoking issue in almost any divorce. If you are the parent who pays it, you might worry that you can't afford it. If you are the parent with custody of the child, you might worry that you can't afford not to receive it. Because child support goes toward the stability and well being of the child, it is important that you know all of the facts before proceeding with your divorce.
How is It Determined Who Pays Child Support?
Child support is paid by whichever spouse is the non-custodial parent of the child. Unlike spousal support, which is discretionary, child support is mandatory and determined by a state-provided formula. A California child support calculator is used to calculate what the non-custodial parent owes. It considers the number of children you have, how much time you spend with each one, your monthly income, the amount you pay in taxes, whether you owe child support from previous relationships, retirement benefits, and other factors before determining a payment. A family court judge makes the final determination, so it is possible that the actual amount you would pay would be different from the one calculated.
Do I Still Need to Pay if I Have Joint Custody of the Child?
Many people believe that if you have 50-50 physical and legal custody of your children, you don't owe child support. In fact, even parents with equal custody may have to pay child support if his or her income is much higher than the other spouse's, even taking other factors like taxes into account. This has generated a lot of anger between ex-spouses, with accusations that the non-paying spouse uses child support money for frivolous purposes. Yet the purpose of paying child support is to ensure that the children have the same standard of living that they enjoyed before the divorce. If the children spend half of their time with a parent whose lifestyle is much poorer, the children will suffer. The parent who pays child support pays less when there is 50-50 custody than if the non-paying parent had primary custody.
What if My Custody Payments Don't Go Toward the Child's Care?
As mentioned above, the paying spouse's biggest fear is usually that the money paid isn't being used to support the children. If that is the case, you should not stop payment. Instead, petition the court to modify child support payments and, if necessary, custody arrangements. It is common for spouses to modify child support payments once their children have outgrown certain care arrangements, such as day care. Ask a California family law attorney for more information about what to do in this type of situation.
What if I Can't Pay? / What if My Spouse Doesn't Send a Payment?
If you are the paying spouse and have a change of circumstances, do not hesitate to let the court know as soon as possible. The court may then modify the amount you owe. Do not stop payment, because if you fall too far behind, the non-paying spouse can go to court and get a contempt order against you, requiring you to pay not just the overdue child support, but also interest and penalties. If you are a non-paying spouse, you can also pursue the payment through various options such as a wage assignment or a lien.