What if we don’t agree on the amount of child support?

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What if we don’t agree on the amount?

California has a statewide formula (called a "guideline") for figuring out how much child support should be paid.

If parents cannot agree on child support, the judge will decide the child support amount based on the guideline calculation. 

The guideline calculation depends on:

  • How much money the parents earn or can earn;
  • How much other income each parent receives;
  • How many children these parents have together;
  • How much time each parent spends with their children (time-share);
  • The actual tax filing status of each parent;
  • Support of children from other relationships;
  • Health insurance expenses;
  • Mandatory union dues;
  • Mandatory retirement contributions;
  • The cost of sharing daycare and uninsured health-care costs; and
  • Other factors.

The child support order may also require the parents to share the costs for:

  • Child care to allow the parent to work or to get training or schooling for work skills;
  • Children’s reasonable health-care expenses;
  • Traveling for visitation from 1 parent to another;
  • Children’s educational needs; and
  • Other special needs.

The guideline amount is presumed to be correct.  The judge can only order something other than the guideline amount in very limited situations. (Read the California Family Code sections 4052 and 4057  for more detail on calculating child support and what the judge can do.)

To estimate how much child support the judge may order in your case, go to California Guideline Child Support Calculator. To understand how to fill in the information in the Child Support Calculator, download the User Guide.   

What if a parent doesn’t pay child support?

If you fall behind in child support payments, you must pay interest on the balance due on top of the amount you owe. Interest charges are added by law, and the judge cannot stop them.

Interest is:

  • 10 percent per year for child support that was due on or after January 1, 1983; or 
  • 7 percent per year for child support that was due before January 1, 1983.

If you owe arrears (past-due child support), it is possible that your court order or wage assignment (garnishment) if there is one, will include an amount over the monthly child support. This amount goes to paying off your arrears, and it is often called a "liquidation amount."  But even if you are paying off your arrears in installments, interest continues to be added to your balance.

Not paying child support can have very serious consequences.  If the court finds that someone has the ability to pay support but is willfully not paying it, the court can decide that the person ordered to pay support is "in contempt of court." Being in contempt of court can be very serious because it can result in jail time. This enforcement tool is generally used only when all others have failed.

If your circumstances have changed since your child support order was made resulting in a decreased ability to pay child support, you may want to ask the court to modify your child support order.  You can seek the assistance of a family law facilitator or file the request yourself here.

If you are the parent owed support and the other parent is not paying, you can ask the court to take various steps to help you get support.  You also can seek the assistance of your local child support agency, who has many tools that can be used to collect your child support. You can apply on-line for those services here.