Child support and child custody are two separate arrangements in a divorce or separation case. However, a custody arrangement could affect child support, since the California courts take the amount of time each parent will have physical custody of children into account during calculations. It is not uncommon for one spouse to split 50/50 custody with another spouse and still owe child support. The courts will order an arrangement that is within the children’s best interests, no matter what that looks like.
Calculating Child Support in California
The goal of a child support order is to provide children of a marriage with the same quality of life they enjoyed prior to the divorce. California has a guideline in place for calculating child support payments. The purpose of the guideline is twofold: to give a child at least the minimum amount of support, and to create uniformity in how to calculate payments. State law requires courts to follow the guidelines, with rare exceptions in special cases. The following are factors a judge will consider when making a child support judgment.
- Both parents’ gross incomes. This includes wages, tips, commissions, bonuses, rental income, etc.
- Each parent’s mandatory payroll deductions and any available tax deductions.
- Percentage of time children will spend with each parent.
- Each parent’s forecasted childcare-related costs.
The exact formula the California courts use to calculate child support is CS = K (HN-(H%)(TN)), where CS is child support, K is the combined total of both parents’ income, HN is the net monthly income of the parent who earns more, H% is the estimated amount of time the higher earner will have child custody compared to the other parent, and TN is both parents’ combined net monthly disposable income. Parents can use a child support calculator for an estimate of what type of arrangement to expect.
How Custody May Affect Child Support
The key factor when looking at how a child custody arrangement may impact child support is H%, or the part of the support equation that deals with the percentage of time the parent will split custody. In a 50%-50% split, H’s value will equal 50. The parent will then multiply 50% by both parents’ combined monthly incomes, then subtract this amount from the higher earner’s net monthly income. Finally, the parent will take this number and multiply it by K, the combined total of both parents’ incomes.
In a joint custody arrangement that is not split down the middle, the parent with the lesser percentage of time spent with children will typically be the one that has to pay child support. This is to ensure both parents actively continue to care for children’s needs. It also makes sense because the parent taking majority custody will have more out-of-pocket childcare expenses than the non-custodial parent. Yet in a 50/50 split, this rule will not apply. Since both parents take equal shares in physical child custody, the courts will look at finances to decide child support, rather than the percentage of parental obligation.
If one parent earns significantly more than the other in a divorce case involving a 50/50 custody division, that parent will most likely owe child support. Holding each parent equally responsible for the financial side of child care may not be fair if one parent earns substantially less, even if both parents share equal custody. Child support is for the child, not for the parent. A judge will make a child support decision based on a child’s best interests in each situation.
Modifying Support Orders
If the paying parent experiences a drop in income, such as a demotion or loss of job, that parent can petition the courts for a child support order modification. The courts may grant a temporary or permanent modification request if the paying parent has a valid reason, such as a change in income. A change in custody arrangement may also result in the modification of a child support order.