Is There a Cap on Child Support in CA?

One of the most pressing questions divorcing parents face is the question of child support payments. Who will become the paying parent and who is the receiving parent, and how are support payments calculated? Many divorcing or unmarried parents facing the likelihood of becoming the paying parent also worry that they won’t be able to afford to support themselves and still keep up their court-ordered child support payments. Is there a cap on child support payments in California?

How Do California Courts Decide Child Support Payments?

Child support is the court-ordered payments one parent must pay to the other to contribute a fair share to the costs of raising children, including for the following:

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Medical expenses
  • Education 
  • Extra-curricular activities
  • Entertainment
  • Any extra requirements for children with special needs

While the court typically assumes a 50/50 split in custody or parenting time, if the parents have a different arrangement, such as one parent having primary custody and the other visitation rights, the calculations will be different.

While some divorcing parents assume that neither party must pay child support if they share custody equally in a 50/50 split, California’s family court system does not work that way. Instead, it calculates child support based on minimizing the discrepancy in income so one parent isn’t left with an undue financial burden. To address this, typically the higher-earning parent pays an amount of child support to the lower-earning parent, regardless of shared custody. In cases of one parent having sole custody, the non-custodial parent pays the parent with custody.

The basic rule follows this premise: The greater the income difference between parents and the less parenting time the higher-earning parent spends with the children, the higher the support payments that parent must pay.

California’s Child Support Calculator

California family court provides a formula for calculating child support. Divorcing parents may use the calculator to find the most likely outcome for their support payments. In many cases, they may come to an agreement during mediation using this formula and a judge will simply sign off on it, unless it’s incorrectly calculated or unfair. In other cases, parents may not reach a mutually acceptable agreement and the argument goes to court for a judge to decide.

To determine child support, parents need to gather documents to calculate each parent’s net disposable income by subtracting certain financial amounts from their gross income, including:

  • State and Federal taxes and medicare/social security withholdings and payroll deductions
  • Health insurance premiums
  • Child support payments for children of other relationships
  • In some cases, a deduction for “extreme financial hardship” approved by a judge

Then the state uses a formula for determining the lower and higher-earning parents and the amount of custody time of each parent in order to determine payments. The formula is CS = K (HN – (H%) (TN)).

California’s Child Support Services offers a website to help parents calculate child support based on the above formula.

Does the State Adhere to the Formula or is There a Cap on Child Support?

Though California’s family court’s official Child Support Calculator gives a basic idea of the child support amount, a judge makes the final decision. The state places no cap on the amount of child support a paying parent must pay each month. Instead, it’s based solely on the amount of income both parents make each month, the amount the greater-earning parent earns, and the parenting/custody time of each parent.

After the court makes a decision on child support amounts, either parent can petition for a modification at any time they experience a significant and ongoing change in financial circumstances.