Policy Behind California’s Child Support Calculation
California child support is calculated using the State Uniform Guideline which is an algebraic formula contained in Family Code § 4053. The algebraic formula factors in
(1) the amount of both parents’ income that can be used for child support,
(2) the higher earning parent’s net monthly disposable income,
(3) the higher earning parent’s percentage of time in which they will have primary physical responsibility of the child relative to the other parent, and
(4) the total net monthly disposable income of both parents.
Unfortunately for the high-earning parent the formula weighs income and time available for primary physical responsibility of the child. Indeed, in awarding custody the court is guided in part by the nature and amount of contact the child has with both parents and the harm from disrupting established patterns of care. In effect, the higher-earning parent who must dedicate their time to work is at a disadvantage in the calculation compared to the stay-at-home parent.
Family Code Section 4053
The policies behind the State Uniform Guideline are codified in Family Code § 4053 and explain in part why the guideline places a greater burden on the working parent vs. the stay-at-home parent. According to § 4053 the court must adhere to the following principles when implementing the State Uniform Guideline:
- 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.
- Both parents are mutually responsible for the support of their children.
- The guideline takes into account each parent’s actual income and level of responsibility for the children.
- Each parent should pay for the support of the children according to his or her ability.
- The guideline seeks to place the interests of children as the state’s top priority.
- 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.
- 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.
- The financial needs of the children should be met through private financial resources as much as possible.
- It is presumed that a parent having primary physical responsibility for the children contributes a significant portion of available resources for the support of the children.
- The guideline seeks to encourage fair and efficient settlements of conflicts between parents and seeks to minimize the need for litigation.
- The guideline is intended to be presumptively correct in all cases, and only under special circumstances should child support orders fall below the child support mandated by the guideline formula.
- Child support orders must ensure that children actually receive fair, timely, and sufficient support reflecting the state’s high standard of living and high costs of raising children compared to other states.