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Child Support

By definition, Child Support is a financial contribution paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent towards the expenses of raising his or her children. That seems pretty cut and dry. However, child support can turn into a major issue as divorces are often wrought with emotions and often times parties use the children as financial pawns in their divorce. This is also true in paternity matters where the parties aren’t married.


In most states there are specific guidelines which are followed in the determination of how much child support is to be allocated. Each state is different, but most states take into consideration the income levels (both earned and unearned) of both the parents as well as the expenses associated with raising the child in their determination and the percentage of time the children spend with each parent. That is a very broad example of how it can be calculated. Often there are complicated formulas and schedules that are used. Keep in mind that a judge has the authority to deviate from the guidelines it he or she determines that the situation warrants it.


In California, the Court will generally have jurisdiction over the issue of child support until the minor child turns age 18 or until the age of 19 so long as the child is enrolled in full-time high school. In Los Angeles County, and in Lancaster, California, the Court’s routinely use the Dissomaster program to calculate child support (and spousal support too!). In fact, the DissoMaster program is used by almost all family law professionals to determine guideline child and spousal support payments in the State of California. It has been used in the California judicial system for over 20 years for the purpose of computing support calculations under the California Statewide Uniform Child Support Guidelines.


Currently, there are a lot of different online programs that purport to calculate support just like the Dissomaster program does. However, not all of those calculators are accurate, including the County of Los Angeles calculator that is available online through the Department of Child Support Services. Often times these online tools, while helpful to get a “rough” idea of where support may come out at are not nearly as robust for a number of reasons, particularly for various tax purposes. Consulting with an experienced family law attorney at the Johnson Law Firm will ensure that when you have a child support calculation completed, it will be reliable and in alignment with what the court may order. Still though, child support can be a tricky issue because of a lack of understanding by one or both parties.


To that end, child support is often misconstrued by the payor, the person paying the support, who may feel that the custodial parent is not using the funds to support the child. On the other side of the equation is the custodial parent, or payee, who may feel that they are barely making ends meet while the non-custodial parent’s lifestyle has barely changed. More often than not, they are both generally misconceptions.


Here are a few things to keep in mind about child support:

Child support is money that is being used for the child. The payor may not agree with how the funds are being used, but that isn't their decision to make. The use of child support funds is at the discretion of the custodial parent. The child needs a roof over its head, food to eat, a bed, and so on.

Even if the custodial parent earns more than the non custodial parent, child support payments may have to be made.

What is more, child support often doesn't include extra-curricular activities. Extra-curricular activities would include such things as Little League, dance lessons, etc. If possible, both parents should contribute to these in addition to the court ordered child support. Often if there are specific, known extra expenses their payment can be allocated in the divorce agreement or support order.

Child support is not taxable to the recipient nor is it deductible to the payor.

Always make your child support payments on time, with pride in the knowledge that you are contributing to the support of your children. There is no room in child support for bitterness or anger at your ex. This is true for the recipient as well as well as the payor.

Often times, the Court will make an order that one or both parents need to provide health insurance for the minor child if available to that parent for no or a reasonable cost. Be sure to include information about this aspect in your requests to the Court.

There are also expenses that the children may need for healthcare expenses that are not covered by insurance, or out-of-pocket expenses. Generally these expenses should be split, however, there are specific laws that address the issue and each case is fact sensitive. Nonetheless, these sorts of expenses must be considered when making a request for child support.

Routinely in todays modern life, one or both parents require some sort of before school or after school day care assistance because of work or school commitments. This too is an area related to the issue of child support and should be addressed in any request of child support before the Court.

It is common in most states, and mandatory in others to have wages garnished for child support. This is nothing to be ashamed of. It is such a common occurrence that there is no longer any stigma attached to it. Today most employers have direct deposit of payroll checks where the employee's pay can go to several accounts in the amount established by the employee. If this is available to you, you should try to make an agreement with your ex-spouse to have the child support payments made through direct deposit. This will be easier and better for everyone. First the payor does not have to write a check which is always done begrudgingly when made payable to the ex-spouse even when it is for the support of the children. This will avoid that problem. As far as a record, your pay stub is your receipt. Secondly, the support money will always be paid on time and will be available for immediate use.

Do not involve your children. Your children should never know the amount of support that is to be paid. All discussions regarding support should be handled directly between the parents. Remember to keep the children ``out of your battles``.

If you are not receiving your child support payments try to work it out with your ex-spouse. To the extent possible, everyone wins if this and many other personal issues can be handled out of court. If this is not possible or is not satisfactory then it would be better to seek professional intervention such as an attorney or mediator.

Remember that you should never use your children as pawns in a child support dispute. If payments are not made or not made promptly, do not interfere with the visitation rights of your ex-spouse. Support and visitation should be kept as separate issues and the Court will take that view also. While the financial support is important, it is equally important for the children to have the love and emotional support of both parents.

While child support payments are determined based upon specific guidelines, they can also be negotiated, so long as neither parent is aided by the County, generally. If you and your ex-spouse can reach a fair and amicable decision on how much the child support should be and the court believes the needs of the children may be met than all those involved will be happier in the long run. Why put the determination of child support into the hands of a stranger (the judge) if you don't have to. CONSULT AN ATTORNEY BEFORE AGREEING TO ANY CHILD SUPPORT ARRANGEMENT.

As discussed above, child support payments will generally continue until all the children of the relationship reach the age of majority. But, majority age does not always mean 18 as many believe. Each situation is unique and you should have a consultation to determine your specific situation.


Related to the issue of how long the support will continue is modification of support. In some instances, modification of child support is appropriate. For example, if you have more than one child and one of the children reaches the age of majority, the amount of support that is to be paid needs to be recalculated according to the schedules and guidelines outlined by the state. It is not a percentage of the number of remaining children, as support is allocated differently to each child depending on that child’s age. Let’s say that you have 3 children and the amount of support is $300 per week. The amount of support is not $100 per child, so therefore when the first child is emancipated the support amount does not automatically become $200, it should be recalculated based on 2 children. In other words, modification can be a complicated are of the law and getting sound legal advice before you go to court is a good idea.


Another thing to think about in obtaining initial child support orders and modifying child support orders is the very act of filing itself. In other words, the mere fact that you have children and are raising them does not entitle you to child support without further action initiated by the party requesting child support. Nor are you magically entitled to a modification without action. Currently in California it is the law that that no child support order may be obtained or modified retroactively prior to the filing date. In other words, until a formal request for support is propounded to the Court, the court is unable to make support orders. This becomes extremely significant in the event of some sort of change of circumstance to an existing child support order.


For example, if there is a current child support order and the payor becomes or terminated, or involuntarily unemployed, or physically disabled or has another legitimate reason under the law, a motion for modification must be filed immediately because until the Court orders a change the current order will remain in effect. As such, a payor may be liable for child support payments when the law would modify the support order downward, set at $0 or even order child support from the other parent. But, the Court will lack the ability to do change child support if the request to modify it is not filed. This can lead to large amounts of back support owing which could potentially be avoided. If you have a material change of circumstance and are the payor or payee in a current child support order, you need to contact an attorney immediately to determine how this may impact you.


There are also sometimes issues of hardships that one parent claims as a basis for lowering their child support. Under the law, the Court has the authority to consider “extreme financial hardships.” But be warned that these requests may be very difficult to sustain. Some examples of hardship deductions could be, extraordinary health expenses; uninsured catastrophic losses (one example would be if your house burned down and you did not have insurance or enough insurance) and more. Complicating this issue is that these hardships are treated differently by each individual Judicial Officer and the granting of a hardship normally requires a noticed motion, points and authorities in support of the motion, a declaration and supporting documentation. If the hardship deduction is due to the basic living expenses of other children living with the parent, then the general rule is that this deduction cannot exceed the child support allocated to each child subject to the child support order. The Court must also make either a written or oral finding stating the reasons for the hardship deduction as well as some other factors. Obviously, this component of child support can get complex and seeking advice about it in advance is likely in you and your children’s best interest.


One last thought on the subject. Keep in mind that child support is for the children. It is to keep their lifestyles the same as if you were not divorced or together. Children should not be victims of divorce or deprived of a normal childhood because of issues surrounding support.

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