If you are involved in a child support case in California, you are going to come across the term “guideline support” frequently. What guideline support means is that child support is calculated based on a state guideline formula that is intended to cut down on litigation and facilitate the resolution of child support disputes. The practical effect is that having a guideline support amount gives all parties an idea of what the amount of support will be, and really encourages people to settle on the guideline amount instead of unnecessarily fighting over the amount of child support due.
US Federal law is the basis for mandating all states receiving certain federal funds to establish a guideline formula for child support. The law is found at 42 USC section 667. California’s adherence to this federal law’s requirement to create a statewide guideline support formula begins in California’s Family Code section 4050.
The actual formula used to calculate support is found in California Family Code section 4055, and is CS = K [HN — (H%)(TN)]. Section 4055 breaks down what that formula actually means, but for most of us, it is easier to use computer software that will calculate the guideline amount for us. Most courthouses handling family law matters have computers available where child support can be calculated. There is web site online that can help you get an idea of what your child support will be with a calculator available, and can be found here.
The California Family Code also breaks down how the court is supposed to implement the guideline rules for child support, as follows from section 4053:
(a) A parent’s first and principal obligation is to support his or her minor children according to the parent’s circumstances and station in life.
(b) Both parents are mutually responsible for the support of their children.
(c) The guideline takes into account each parent’s actual income and level of responsibility for the children.
(d) Each parent should pay for the support of the children according to his or her ability.
(e) The guideline seeks to place the interests of children as the state’s top priority.
(f) Children should share in the standard of living of both parents. Child support may therefore appropriately improve the standard of living of the custodial household to improve the lives of the children.
(g) Child support orders in cases in which both parents have high levels of responsibility for the children should reflect the increased costs of raising the children in two homes and should minimize significant disparities in the children’s living standards in the two homes.
(h) The financial needs of the children should be met through private financial resources as much as possible.
(i) It is presumed that a parent having primary physical responsibility for the children contributes a significant portion of available resources for the support of the children.
(j) The guideline seeks to encourage fair and efficient settlements of conflicts between parents and seeks to minimize the need for litigation.
(k) The guideline is intended to be presumptively correct in all cases, and only under special circumstances should child support orders fall below the child support mandated by the guideline formula.
(l) Child support orders must ensure that children actually receive fair, timely, and sufficient support reflecting the state’s high standard of living and high costs of raising children compared to other states.
For most child support cases, a Judge will not deviate from the guideline amount. The only questions to be decided are what each parent’s disposable income is, how much time each parent spends with the children, and what is the tax filing status and exemptions of each parent. After that information is ascertained, the formula will provide how much child support should be paid. Because the guideline amount is difficult to dispute, the issues that get most disputed in child support cases are what a parent’s income is and how much time each parent spends with the children.