What is child support?

Child support is the amount of money that a court orders a parent or both parents to pay every month to help pay for the support of the child (or children) and the child’s living expenses. Child support payments are usually made until children turn 18 (or 19 if they are still in high school full time, living at home, and cannot support themselves).

When is child support ordered?

When a married couple has a child, paternity (legal fatherhood) does not need to be established, since the law automatically presumes the husband is the child's legal father. When an unmarried woman has a child, paternity must be established before a court will order child or medical support, or determine custody or visitation rights.

How is child support calculated?

In making an order for support, the court will determine each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s needs based upon their financial circumstances. The court will use a child support guideline formula to determine which parent will pay support and how much that support will be. The guideline calculation depends on many factors including:
  • How much 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

To estimate how much child support the judge may order in your case, you can use the California Guideline Child Support Calculator.

Can a child support order be changed?

Yes. After a judge makes a child support order, one or both parents (or a local child support agency if they are involved in that case) may want to change the order. The asking party must show that there was a “change of circumstance” since the last child support order was made. Some reasons why a child support order might need to be changed are:
  • Income of one or both parties has changed
  • One parent has lost their job
  • One parent has been incarcerated
  • One parent had another child from another relationship
  • There have been significant changes in the child custody and visitation (parenting plan)

If the parents (and the local child support agency if involved in the case) can reach an agreement on a new amount of child support, they can complete a stipulation and give it to the judge for signature and have it become a new order.

If you and the other parent do not agree to a modification of child support, you may visit our Resource Center or Family Law Facilitator to find out what your options are.

Once you ask the court to modify the amount of child support, the court will make its decision based on the current circumstances (mainly both parents' income and time-share with the child). If you are not sure whether the change in circumstances will result in an increase or a decrease, you can visit our Resource Center or Family Law Facilitator to help calculate the estimates for you before you file your documents.

How do I enforce a child support order?

In every case ordering child support, the court will order that a wage assignment (garnishment) be issued and served. The wage assignment tells the payor’s employer to take the support payments out of their wages.

When the Department of Child Support Services is NOT involved, both parents can agree that payments can be made in some other way. In this situation, the parents work out how child support will be paid and handle it between them.

If DCSS is involved, they will most likely want an active wage assignment in place with the employer. They will also want all child support payments to go through the State Disbursement Unit.

If you have a child support order, you can contact DCSS and ask them to get involved in the case. They will collect the payments and send them to you. Their services are free of charge.

You may contact the Department of Child Support Services for more information.

How do I respond to a government-established child support case?

When you have been served with a governmental complaint, you have thirty days to file an Answer. If you do not file an Answer, then thirty days from the date you were served with the Summons and Complaint, the County Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) could submit papers to enter a default against you. What that means to you –- whatever DCSS asked for in their Proposed Judgment will become a court order.

What if I don’t know if I’m the dad?

If you have any doubts about whether or not you are the father of the child/ren, NOW is the time to request paternity (DNA) testing. You can easily ask for the DNA test by answering “NO” to the question about whether you are the parent. Then the Department of Child Support will contact you with information regarding how to get the DNA test.

Warning! You don’t have much time to find out if you are the dad. In some cases, if you haven’t found out by the time the child is 2 years old, you may not be able to do anything about it later. If you have questions, you can contact our Family Law Facilitator for more information.

What if the papers aren’t asking about the parentage?

In some instances, the Summons & Complaint from the Department of Child Support simply asks for a certain amount of child support or for health insurance coverage. If the Complaint doesn’t ask if you are the father, then you cannot get the DNA test without a special court order.

What if a parent does not pay court-ordered 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.

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 in addition to the monthly child support. This additional amount goes to paying off your arrears.

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 may visit one of our Resource Centers or our Family Law Facilitator for assistance with this issue.