They Paid What?! How Is My California Child Support Obligation Calculated?

At some point in your life, you have probably done a double-take upon hearing news of a crazy-sounding child support payment of a celebrity or famous athlete. The media loves to report on these sometimes exorbitant amounts, for the shock value given to amounts of money that many Americans may never even dream of seeing. Here are some reported examples:
• Halle Berry, paying $20,000 per month to ex-boyfriend for 1 daughter • Eddie Murphy, paying $51,000 per month for 1 daughter • Sean “Diddy” Combs, paying $20,000 per month to ex-girlfriend for 1 son and $21,782 per month for now adult son to another ex-girlfriend
• Charlie Sheen, paying $50,000 per month to ex-wife Denise Richards for 2 daughters, and $55,000 to a different ex-wife for 2 sons
• Allen Iverson, owing $8,000 per month to ex-wife • Terrell Owens, owing $120,000 per month in child support and mortgages to 4 different mothers (whether he actually pays is a completely different story…)

You may be questioning how this happens. Certainly no child eats $20,000 worth of food or needs $8,000 worth of diapers each month, right? So what actually goes into the Court’s calculation of child support?

Let’s start off with the understanding that if you have a child, you have a legal obligation to support that child. Both parents share equally in this obligation irrespective of their marital status or gender. California uses a statewide uniform guideline to set the amount for child support. Courts are only allowed to depart from the guideline amount in special circumstances (as listed in the Code).

In setting an amount of child support, the State’s top priority is the best interest of the child. However, this doesn’t just take into account the cost to cover the bare necessities of the child; it also takes into account the standard of living of each parent and can serve to help minimize significant disparities in living standards. Knowing that, these celebrity support amounts already start to make more sense. In a scenario where we have a high-earning celebrity living large in a huge mansion in Beverly Hills, who has a child with a low-income person living in a studio apartment in a rough part of town, then a child support payment to the low-income parent may inevitably raise his or her standard of living as part of the child’s right to support.

Don’t fret though, because while the above amounts demonstrate extreme child support orders, it has been reported that the average child support payment in America is about $430 per month. If you do have a child, and will be receiving or paying child support pursuant to a court order, it is important to understand exactly what goes into the Court’s calculation.

The exact components of the formula are explained in CA Family Code Section §4055. The Court looks at the income of both parents, the net monthly disposable income for each parent, and the percentage of time that each parent has physical responsibility for the child. The Code states that the amount of support as calculated by the formula is presumed to be the correct amount, but that presumption may be rebutted if the Court finds that the guideline amount would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case (special factors listed in FC §4057).

The California Department of Child Support Services (“DCSS”) provides an online calculator which gives parents the ability to enter their own information and calculate an amount for support under the State’s formula. While this can give you an idea of how much a child support obligation might be, its accuracy really depends on whether you have correct information about the other parent’s finances. The calculator can be accessed via the DCSS website.

While some child support cases may be relatively straightforward, complications can easily arise, especially where complex financial issues are present or where the other parent refuses to pay. In these cases, it may be wise to be represented by an experienced family law attorney.

The family law attorneys at Bickford Blado & Botros have years of experience dealing with child support issues. If you need to file or respond to a motion for child support, already have a support order and are not receiving your payments, have a current order that needs to be modified, and/or need aid with any number of other issues that often arise in conjunction with child support requests, we are here to help. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.
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