In ordering child support, the courts of California are guided by a set of guidelines and principles set by law. Very little is left to the discretion of the court. The law provides a mathematical formula which must be followed in computing child support; the figures cannot be just pulled out of thin air. However, in certain instances, the court may allow for hardship deductions from the parent’s net disposable income when the parent is suffering from extreme financial hardship.
Statewide Uniform Guideline
The state of California has a strong public policy in favor of adequate child support. This policy is expressed in the Statewide Uniform Guideline for determining child support. This guideline requires the court to calculate child support based on a mathematical formula. The formula takes into consideration the parents’ incomes and custodial time with the child.
The result of the algebraic formula is presumed to be the correct amount of child support which is to be ordered. Courts no longer have a broad discretion to order child support beyond or below the result of the formula. Now that the determination of child support is highly regulated by law, the only discretion the court has is the discretion provided by the statute or rule.
The guideline applies when the court is ordering permanent child support, temporary child support, expedited child support, modification of an existing order for child support, and family support. Family support is when child and spousal support are combined in one order.
Principles in Implementing the Guideline
Courts are enjoined to adhere to the following principles codified in Family Code 4053 when applying and implementing the guideline formula:
- A parent’s first and principal obligation is to support his or her minor children according to the parent’s circumstances and station in life.
- Parents are naturally responsible for their children’s support.
- The guideline must consider each parent’s actual income and level of responsibility towards the children.
- The interest of the children are the state’s top priority
- Children should share in both parents’ standard of living, and the child support may appropriately improve the standard of living of the custodial household to improve the children’s lives.
- Child support orders in cases in which both parents have high levels of responsibility for the children should reflect the increased costs of raising the children in two homes and should minimize significant disparities in the children’s living standards in the two homes.
- Children’s financial needs should be met through private financial resources as much as possible.
- A parent who has primary physical responsibility for the children is presumed to contribute a significant portion of available resources for the children’s support.
- The intent of this guideline is to encourage fair and efficient settlements of conflicts between parents and to minimize litigation.
- Child support orders should ensure that the children receive fair, timely and sufficient support that reflects the state’s high standard of living and high costs of raising children compared to other states.
- This guideline enjoys a presumption of correctness in all cases. Only under special circumstances should child support orders fall below the amount of support mandated by the guideline formula.
The principles in implementing the guideline favors the child heavily. For example, when a parent is wealthy, the needs of the children are measured by the parent’s current station in life, not just the basic needs of the children. In a way, the law aims for the children to enjoy the same level of comfort and lifestyle that their parents enjoy. A parent cannot request the court to base the child support order on the children’s historic expenses either.