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Law Library  - Child Support

As might be expected, the "preamble" to California Child Support laws states:

Subject to this chapter and to Section 3651, spouses may agree, in writing, to an immediate separation, and may provide in the agreement for the support of either of them and of their children during the separation or upon the dissolution of their marriage. The mutual consent of the parties is sufficient consideration for the agreement.

Family Law in California is about the parents. Although a court might override a parental agreement with regard to child support, it will do so only if it (the court) believes that the agreement is not in the best interest of the child(ren). 

The basic concept is this: both parents are equally responsible for providing the needs of the child until he or she has completed high school or has attained the age of 19 and is still in high school. When necessary, a court can order support for an adult child under Family Code 3910 for "a child of whatever age who is incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means"

Specifically, California Family code 4053 says:

“Children should share in the standard of living of both parents. Child support may therefore appropriately improve the standard of living of the custodial household to improve the lives of the children.”


Absent an agreement between parents as to the support of the children, California uses what it terms as “The Uniform Guideline” when determining child support. In a nutshell, the guideline is a complex formula that returns a result which the State presumes to be correct. It uses each parent’s monthly income, applies the visitation allowance/percentage that was agreed to/ordered for the non-custodial parent, takes allowable deductions into consideration (such as union dues and work related expenses) and computes the support obligation of the higher earning parent. The goal is to minimize disruption in the child’s life when he/she moves between homes. The goal is to create the environment for the child (to the extent possible) that was in place when the parents were together.


To find out more about the Uniform Guideline and the Support Calculator, view,


Generally, only the biological parents are responsible for the support of their children. In rare instances a step-parent may be liable for a step-child’s support, if he/she: a) represented to the child that he or she was the child’s true parent with the intent that the child rely on the representation and b) the child relied on the representation as the truth and treated the person as a parent.


Family members or “third-parties” who voluntarily care for a child are not entitled to compensation without an agreement from the biological parent.


When determining the income of a parent, the court looks at several factors: a) monthly salary, b) regular monetary gifts, c) lottery winnings, d) unexercised stock options and even housing allowances. In some cases, a court may consider the earning capacity of a parent rather than their actual income.

Moreover, if a parent voluntarily quits working or obtains a new position that significantly reduces their income, a court, in its discretion, may impute an income to the parent when the parent has both the ability and the opportunity to earn a higher income, but is unwilling to do so (Marriage of Regnery, 214 Cal3rd 1367).


Last, a child support order includes “Add-On” expenses. Expenses such as: Child care costs related to employment or to reasonably necessary education or training for employment skills, and the reasonable uninsured health care costs for the children are Mandatory add-on expenses that are standard in a court order. Those expenses are part of the support deal. However, a court, in its discretion, may also order expenses—like college expenses—to be included in the order, depending on the circumstances.

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