Going through a divorce is arguably the most emotionally taxing event that a person can endure in his or her lifetime. When a child or children are involved, multiple additional stressors and complications arise. Among them, calculating child support can leave the parties confused and overwhelmed.

However, child support, relatively speaking, has elements which are more straightforward and mathematical under the California Child Support Guideline. The first step is to calculate each parent’s “net disposable income.” Under the California Child Support Guideline, the court calculates the amount of child support to be paid by considering four factors.

First, the court will inquire about the non-custodial parent’s (or the parent that typically has a lower percentage of physical custody) net income which includes money from all sources, regardless of whether the type of money is reported under state or federal law as “taxable income.” Net disposable income is similar in concept to “take-home pay.” Understand that the court calculates this amount somewhat differently than an employer typically calculates for pay roll deductions; however, many of the deductions do overlap.

The court will begin calculating the amount of child support by starting with the non-custodial parent’s total income. This figure is reached by adding the numbers from a variety of sources. Examples of income include wages from a job, tips, commission, bonuses, unemployment benefits, pensions, interest, dividends, and rental income.

Once this figure is identified, certain items will be deducted from the non-custodial parent’s income, such as taxes, mandatory union dues, mandatory retirement contributions, health premiums, and costs of raising a child after a divorce or separation, to name a few.

The remaining amount is considered as the non-custodial parent’s net disposable income.

Second, the court then determines the custodial parent’s net disposable income. We use the same method as with the non-custodial parent.

Third, the judge will inquire about each parent’s federal tax filing status. There are four possible statuses: single, head of household, married filing separately, and married filing jointly. The filing status of each parent plays a role in how the support will be calculated.

The final step in calculating child support is the “time share” or the percentage of time the child spends with each parent. In plain terms, the more time the child spends with the non-custodial parent the less child support will be ordered by the court. The court may investigate to confirm that the motivation for spending more time with the child is in the best interests of the child and not primarily with the intent of the parent to either obtain or to avoid paying child support.


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