California child support, custody, visitation, and wage garnishment rules
Use this California child support law to learn about your child support rights and responsibilites.
How is California child support determined?
In California, the father and mother have an equal duty to support their child in a manner suitable to the child's circumstances. There is a mandatory minimum amount of child support outlined in the state guidelines, and this amount will be used unless there is a reasonable agreement between the parents.
Often today, parents make an agreement as to an amount of child support that is reasonable as part of their parenting plan or their marital settlement. These stipulated agreements are usually recognized by the court.
However, agreements and stipulations between parents to compromise the parents' child support obligations or remove the case from the court's jurisdiction are void. Such agreements contradict the public policy to maintain the child support obligation of the non-custodial parent.
Some counties may order mediation to reach an agreement between parents. All agreements and stipulations for child support must be in writing. Stipulation forms provided by the court should be used and must contain all information, including a statement of the guidelines of support and the "agreement language." IF AFDC is owed for public assistance, the representative of the DA office paying the assistance must sign the agreement.
California’s state child support guidelines consider such thing as the current income of both parents and the amount of time the children spend with each parent.
At what age does child support payments end?
The child support obligation continues past 18 years of age, as long as the child is unmarried, is a full-time high school student and is not self-supporting. In this case, the child support obligation will end when the child reaches 19 years of age or graduates high school, whichever of these occurs first.
California's custody guidelines:
The California courts may award joint or sole custody based on the best interests of the child. The following order of preference is given to the different types of custody:
- joint custody or sole custody to one parent based on the best interest of the child; preferences will not be made based on the sex of the parent
- custody to neither parent; custody would go to the person where the child has been living in a stable environment
- custody to any other person or persons deemed, by the court, to be suitable and able to provide adequate care and guidance to the child
In determining which parent will maintain custody, the court will consider which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent contact with the other parent.
There is no preference or presumption for or against joint legal custody, joint physical custody or sole custody. Complete discretion is given to the court.
In all cases, the court may appoint a child custody evaluator to determine the best interest of the child. The evaluator will file a written confidential report of the evaluation 10 days before the hearing.
California's medical insurance guidelines:
In a proceeding for child support, the court will consider the health insurance coverage part of the child support order if it is available to any of the parties at a reasonable cost through one of their employers.
In any action instituted by a local child support agency for payment of child support, a completed state medical insurance form will be completed and sent by the local child support agency to the department of child support services.
How permanent are the provisions for California child support and custody ?
As in most states, court orders providing for support and custody of children are subject to change or modification due to changes in income and circumstances. Once a year, either spouse can require the other parent to complete an income and expense form to determine if a formal petition for a court order change should be filed.
While all orders concerning the children are modifiable in the future, it is not advisable to not enter into an agreement based on the idea that it can always be changed or modified later.
Wage garnishment for child support payments:
Yes. Almost every state, including California, has a provision for withholding child support directly from the earnings of the parent who has been ordered to provide support. In fact, in California, all child support orders must now include language for a mandatory income deduction order. The child support is then directly withheld from the earnings of the paying parent. It is withheld much like income tax is withheld.
This way of paying and receiving child support is generally easier for both parties and considered a very dependable solution. Once the support is withheld, it is then sent by the employer to the state agency authorized to receive and disburse payments. Once it has been verified that the support was paid, it is then sent to the custodial parent.
If a non-custodial parent can show that they are providing more than 50 percent of the support for dependents not included in the court order from a second marriage, and is not in arrears, no more than 50% of their disposable income can be attached if they cannot pay the full court-ordered amount of both orders.
That number goes to 55% if the non-custodial parent is in arrears, 60 percent for a person only providing support to dependents under the current order, and 65% for a person who is in arrears and paying only on the current order.
How does joint custody work?
In California, joint or shared custody may be awarded if the court determines it’s in the best interests of the child, and the parents have submitted an agreement requesting joint custody.
Joint custody means joint legal and joint physical custody as defined below:
- joint legal custody - both parents share the right and responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education and welfare of the child
- joint physical custody - each of the parents have significant periods of physical custody of the child to assure the child frequent and continuing contact with both parents
While it is a 50-50 sharing of responsibilities and major decisions affecting the children, it rarely works out to be a 50-50 sharing of time with the children. Usually one parent is named as the primary joint custodian and the other parent is granted visitation.
How California determines child visitation:
Generally, parents are free to visit with their children at all times that are mutually agreed to by both parents. However, when parents cannot agree, the standard visitation schedule is:
- every other weekend
- four to six (4-6) weeks during the summer
- alternating holidays