If you are getting a divorce in the state of California, if you are expecting to divorce, or if you are already divorced but dealing with a custody, visitation, child support, or alimony dispute, you must have an experienced California family law attorney advocating aggressively on your behalf and making certain that your rights are protected throughout the legal process. For divorcing parents, nothing is more important than your children, their well-being, and their future.

Often, when parents get divorced, one of the most divisive issues is child support. When a California judge orders a parent to pay child support, the order is not intended as a penalty or as a punishment but rather as a simple recognition of that parent’s legal responsibility.

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about child support in California. The answers, however, can only be general answers because every family and every case is different. That is one reason why every parent who becomes involved in a California child support dispute must have the help and insights of an experienced family law attorney.

Q: What is the legal definition of child support?

A: Under California law, child support is the payment that a parent makes to help cover a child’s living expenses. All parents are obligated by law to contribute financially to the care of their children, and after a divorce in California, both parents are still equally legally obligated. California courts typically order the non-custodial parent to make ongoing child support payments to the custodial parent after a divorce.

Child support is paid in California until a child is 18 years old and may continue past age 18 if both parents agree, if the child still attends high school (until the child’s 19th birthday), or if the child is mentally or physically disabled.

Q: How are child support payment amounts determined in this state?

A: California lawmakers have established statutory guidelines to help judges decide what amount of child support a non-custodial parent should be obligated to pay. The guidelines spell out a complex child support formula or “calculator” based on the income of each parent and the amount of time each parent spends with the child.

If you expect to be involved in a child support dispute, you will need tax returns, paycheck stubs, 1099s or W2s, and any other documents that provide personal financial information. An experienced Cerritos family law attorney can make certain that you are paying or receiving a just and proper amount of child support.

Q: Can the guidelines be overlooked if a non-custodial parent faces financial hardship?

A: The court may approve a hardship deduction if the parent who pays child support has unexpected medical costs, uninsured catastrophic losses, or becomes the parent of another child – naturally or through adoption – from another relationship. In these kinds of circumstances, the courts have wide discretion, and a judge may or may not decide to approve a request for a hardship deduction.

Q: What if the parent who pays child support passes away before the child turns 18?

A: A recent ruling by California’s Fifth District Court of Appeals makes it clear, in the court’s words, “that a child support obligation survives the death of the supporting parent and is a charge against his or her estate. In addition to being a charge against a supporting parent’s estate, court-ordered child support becomes a charge against that parent’s living trust, when his or her assets are in such trust rather than in an estate.” Sometimes, life insurance may be part of a child support agreement, and in some cases, a California judge may order a parent to buy and maintain a life insurance policy which names the children and the other parent as beneficiaries.

Q: What if a child support order needs to be changed?

A: Over time, circumstances and finances may change for one or both of the parents, and the first child support order may have to be modified. A modification of the child support order may be justified by unemployment or a change of jobs; by illness, injury, or disability; by a move to another state or even another nation; by a new child with a new partner; or by a criminal conviction and/or a jail or prison sentence.

If the parent who pays child support becomes unemployed, for example, he or she cannot simply stop making child support payments. That parent must request a modification of the child support order from the court. In southern California, if you need to have a child support order modified – or if you need to dispute your spouse’s request for a child support modification – have an experienced Cerritos family law attorney handle the matter on your behalf.

Q: What can happen if a parent who is ordered to pay child support fails to pay?

A: If a California court has ordered your ex to pay child support that you are not receiving, a good family lawyer can help you to take legal action. The tools that a California court can use to compel child support payments include wage garnishments, interception of tax refunds, levies on bank accounts, and charging the delinquent parent with contempt of court.

Parents who seek the enforcement of child support orders should clearly understand that if the delinquent parent is jailed, unless that delinquent parent has other income or assets such as a car or a house, it may be impossible to collect any child support while that parent is in custody.

When a child receives child support funds through a state agency, that agency can file a lawsuit to compel a parent to make payments. If you are sued for child support by a state of California child support agency, obtain legal counsel at once.

You must respond within thirty days. An experienced and trustworthy Cerritos family law attorney can help a parent on either side of any child support dispute in southern California.

Q: How can child support disputes be avoided?

A: The best way to avoid the acrimony and the cost – in both time and money – that are inevitably involved in a child support dispute is for both parents to have a cooperative attitude and a willingness to compromise from the beginning. California courts always decide these cases based upon what the courts consider “the best interests of the child,” but when the parents can reach a mutual agreement regarding child support payments, a California court will almost always accept and “sign off” on that agreement. A good family lawyer can help parents come to an agreement that the court will approve.