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San Diego Child Support – The Basics from Divorce Attorney Paul Staley

Child support in San Diego is figured the same way it is elsewhere in California: by using the state-wide guideline.  This should be simple, right? I mean, plug in the income(s) of the parents and the amount (expressed in percentage) of time the children spend with each parent, and voila! The correct result. If only it were that simple. There are often disagreements about what the “timeshare” (not a vacation condo, but the percentage of time the children spend with each parent) is and even about what the income is.  There are more moving parts than many imagine.

Are some portions of a parent’s income taxable? Are there adjustments to income, like retirement contributions? Health insurance expense? Is the parent entitled to take itemized deductions? (Check this out: a parent with a mortgage payment will pay more support than a parent whose rent is the same amount! Why? Because the mortgage interest tax savings means more “disposable income.”) Is there a new spouse? Does he / she work? New children of a different relationship on either side of the equation? Is there a retirement plan to be divided which will change the income of both parents? And I’m just getting started with this list. As you can see, having access to a free online support calculator is only the beginning.

Google [okay, you could “Bing” or “Yahoo!”] “California child support calculator”  and you’ll find several results. Having a good tool means that if you know how to use it, you’ll get the right result. I’ve seen some really bad calculation by really bright clients.  The conclusion is only as good as the data used, and how it’s used in the calculation. I always bring my laptop to court with me, so I can double check the judge’s calculations!

There is two basic principals about support you can take to the bank: all other factors being equal, the greater the disparity in incomes, the more child support will be ordered. Secondly, the greater the disparity in “timeshare”, sometimes referred to as “child-share”, the more support will be.

What people don’t always understand is, if the parents can agree on not abiding by the California guideline child support calculations the couple can agree to waive the guideline. They can then agree to what ever amount can work for them. The caveat is that at anytime the parent can go to court and ask for the guideline support and it will be granted. So, the agreement is never a hard and fast rule.

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

 The parents may not agree about how the funds should being used, but that decision is really up to the recipient. 

You and the other parent can agree to a “non-guideline” order, either more or less than guideline.  These are tricky and should only be done with professional advice. The thing is, a below guideline order can always be modified upward to guideline; and an above-guideline order require a “change of circumstances” to modify. Be careful.

 Even if the custodial parent – the one with the greater “child-share” – earns more than the non-custodial parent does, child support payments may be ordered payable to him if the percentage of child-share tips the scales.

 Child support orders almost always specify what you’ll hear referred to as “mandatory add-ons.”  These are child care costs related to employment or training, uninsured expenses for medical, dental, orthodontic, vision care or therapeutic counseling services. Most often those are evenly split, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. But the orders usually don’t deal with extra curricular activities. You and the other parent are pretty much left to your own devices to either agree or not on the activities and on sharing the costs. Extra curricular activities would include such things as Little League, Pop Warner and other sports-related activities, music /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.

 Child support is not taxable to the recipient. It is not tax-deductible to the payer.

Wages garnished for child support, is the norm. In fact, it’s often specifically required. It is such a common occurrence that there is no longer any stigma attached to it.


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