If you need to obtain child support payments from your child’s other parent, there’s no shortage of help for parents here in southern California. In fact, it’s easy – and a smart idea – to arrange a meeting with an experienced Long Beach family law attorney if you need child support payments. What can be difficult is understanding the law and the steps that you need to take, so keep reading, and you’ll learn some basic answers about child support in this state.

Of course, every divorce and every pair of parents are different, so you’ll need an attorney to explain how the law might apply in your particular circumstances. You already know, of course, that child support is the amount of money that a court orders a parent to contribute each month toward a child’s various living expenses.

HOW DOES CALIFORNIA VIEW A PARENT’S FINANCIAL OBLIGATION?

Under California law, both before and subsequent to a divorce, or even if the couple never married, all parents are required by law to support their children financially. The state of California takes a parent’s financial responsibility for a child – and any failure on a parent’s part to meet that responsibility – quite seriously.

Even if you are a custodial parent, and you have a court-authorized child support order in place directing the non-custodial parent to make monthly payments, that’s not a guarantee that you will actually receive those payments – or that you’ll receive them when you need them. Actually collecting payments from an uncooperative or delinquent parent can be a genuine aggravation for any custodial parent, and some custodial parents may face genuine financial hardship.

WHAT’S THE BEST TYPE OF CHILD SUPPORT ARRANGEMENT?

When parents divorce, and when never-married parents separate or live separately, it’s always best if they can make their own arrangement regarding child support payments. If there’s enough mutual trust, and the parents can agree to a child support arrangement independently and voluntarily, they can save a great deal of time, money, and aggravation. Additionally, some judge who’s a complete stranger won’t be making an important decision for your family.

Still, in California, parents can’t agree to just “any” child support amount or arrangement. The court has to review and approve such an arrangement. For most couples, the court will sign off on their agreement and it will become the terms of the child support order, but under California law, the court must review all child support, custody, and visitation agreements to ensure that those arrangements are in the child’s or children’s “best interests.”

When parents cannot agree on child support – or when their agreement is not deemed to be in a child’s best interests – and a California court must make a child support determination, the court uses a complicated formula to arrive at a final child support amount. The court takes into account the earning capacity of the parents, the needs of the children, the number of children, and the amount of time the parents spend with the children.

FOR HOW LONG ARE CHILD SUPPORT PAYMENTS MADE?

In California, child support is usually paid until a child turns 18, unless the child is still in high school, in which case payments may continue for one more year. Payments beyond a child’s 18th birthday are also sometimes ordered when a child is physically or mentally handicapped or disabled.

When non-custodial parents fail to pay child support as ordered by a California court, the law gives custodial parents several options for enforcing child support orders. Have a family law attorney explain those options to you, because if your child’s other parent is already violating a child support order, you must not agree to a private child support arrangement with that parent apart from the legal system. Why? Because you’ll be wasting your time and effort.

When a court-issued child support order is already in place, private and unofficial agreements between parents do not carry any legal weight or authority whatsoever. Such agreements, in fact, seldom actually work, and they cannot be enforced. If a custodial parent in southern California isn’t receiving court-ordered child support, that parent’s best option is to take formal legal action with help from an experienced Long Beach family law attorney.

WHAT SHOULD CUSTODIAL PARENTS NEVER EXPECT?

When you are a custodial parent, do not expect your child’s other parent to pay child support unless a court order is in place. If you need a California court to issue a child support order – during a divorce proceeding or for any other reason – discuss your circumstances with an experienced Long Beach family law attorney who can protect your rights and hold your child’s other parent legally accountable.

Non-custodial parents who pay child support may also need legal representation. Child support orders are based on factors that change over time, like a child’s expenses and the incomes of the parents. If you were ordered to pay child support on the basis of circumstances that have significantly changed, an experienced family law attorney can ask the court to modify its child support order on your behalf.

Requesting a modification of the child support order may be imperative for some parents, because if you become unemployed or disabled, if you’re convicted of a crime, or if you get remarried, you cannot just stop paying child support. You must go to the court and seek a modification of the child support order.

WHAT TOOLS DOES THE STATE USE TO ENFORCE CHILD SUPPORT ORDERS?

The state of California has a number of ways to compel child support payments from delinquent, non-custodial parents: bank account levies, wage garnishments, intercepting state or federal tax refunds or lottery winnings, and having delinquent parents found in contempt of court. Let an experienced family law attorney give you advice and guidance – and help you get your child support order modified – before you have to face any of those consequences.

If your own circumstances have changed as a custodial parent, you also have the right to seek a modification of the child support order, and both parents additionally have the right to oppose the other parent’s request for a child support order modification. Parents in these cases should seek representation from a California family lawyer who routinely handles child support modification requests and knows how to prevail on your behalf.

If you’re not receiving the child support payments that a California court has ordered for your child or children, get help and representation from an experienced legal advocate. Being a parent, and especially being a single parent, is difficult enough – don’t try to be a lawyer too. Your child’s future is too important.