Child Support: A Function of Income and Time-share

There are several factors that are crucial in calculating the amount of child support you will be receiving or paying. The most important of these factors are your income, your spouses’ income, and the amount of time you spend with your children. Other factors include, but are not limited to, the amount you pay for health insurance for the children, any union dues you might pay, or any hardship expenses.

Child support is calculated by using a statewide “guideline” formula. Most attorneys and the court use a program called DissoMaster or ExSpouse to calculate guideline child support. The use of a guideline formula ascertains that the amount of child support awarded will be uniform throughout California. Actually, calling the formula “guideline” is a misnomer, because only in certain situations will courts deviate from the formula.

While the formula used is standard, the figures you put into the formula determine the result. The two most important figures are: (1) your income and your spouse’s income, and (2) timeshare.

1. Income
The Family Law Code has a special definition of “income” when it comes to calculating child support. In some cases a party’s income appears to be easily ascertainable -you just look at their paycheck stubs. However, even in such cases, you need to inquire as to bonuses, stock options, living expenses, or other perks they might be receiving from their employer. The Code sees these benefits as “income” which must be factored into the calculation.

When people are self-employed and manage their own accounts, determining income can be difficult. At such times careful discovery must be conducted to make sure the other side is not hiding assets or deferring income until after the child support order is in place. When the other side is self-employed, the aid of a forensic accountant to evaluate the business and determine the cash flow becomes invaluable.

There are times when a party chooses not to work or chooses to accept employment for which they are over-experienced or over-educated. In such cases, courts can order an occupational evaluation to ascertain whether a party’s income is commensurate with their background, experience, and education. Courts can “impute” income to a spouse who has the ability and opportunity to work, but who chooses not to work or not to work in a job suitable for their background, experience, and education.

2. Timeshare
The second crucial factor in determining child support is the amount of time you spend with your child. The more time you spend with your child, the less you will be paying for child support. There are times when one party will fight for more time with their child even though the visitation they demand is not feasible given their work schedule or other factors. Experienced attorneys and judges know, it is highly probable that the only reason the party asks for more time with the child is to reduce the amount of child support they will be paying.

Our clients are advised to focus their energy on creating a parenting plan that works for both parents and for the children, and not to focus on the time-share percentage.

In some cases, the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) might be involved for purposes of creating an initial order or enforcing an existing order. If you are paying child support, you need an attorney who will work with DCSS to make sure that your rights are protected and DCSS does not unnecessarily garnish your wages or put a lien on your driver’s license, your professional license, or your property. As the paying spouse, you are responsible for keeping track of the child support payments you have made. If DCSS claims that you owe child support, you must be prepared to file or be prepared to respond to, a Motion To Determine Arrearages. At the hearing, you will be given the opportunity to show proof of the child support payments you have made. Remember, if you and your spouse reach an agreement to modify the support order, that order must be filed with the court and with DCSS.

Duration of Child Support Orders
Child support payments continue until the child “marries, dies, becomes emancipated, reaches age nineteen, or reaches age eighteen and is not a full-time high-school student, or upon further order of the Court, whichever occurs first.” In certain cases, when a child is incapable of taking care of their own needs, due to severe mental or physical difficulties, child support will continue even after the child turns reaches eighteen and is not a high-school student. Such cases require specialized knowledge. If you find yourself in such a situation, please see an attorney before your child turns eighteen.

Modification of Child Support Orders
What happens if you find out that your spouse is now earning more than he or she was earning when the order went into effect? What happens if you are now spending more time with your children? Just as custody and visitation orders can be modified, child support orders can also be modified anytime you can show a change of circumstances.

A change of circumstances could be an increase or decrease in income or a change in the visitation schedule. One exception to the change in circumstances rule is that even if you and your spouse have agreed to support which is less than a guideline, the court always has the ability to modify child support to comport with the mandatory statewide child support guidelines.

In order to get a child support order that works for you, you need an attorney who is familiar with the nuances of the Family Law Code and the DissoMaster program. You need someone who will use her knowledge to make sure you will be taken care of. Please call us for a free consultation and calculation of a child support estimate.